Labels, Labels, Labels

Why do we need so many labels in the Faith. Liberal, Conservative, radical, traditional etc . . . If we are truly one faith, why not just say Catholic? I know the answer, but wish to hear yours.

It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another.

They are to be avoided not only as “profane novelties of words,” out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics.

Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved” (Athanas. Creed).

There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

Encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum
(Paragraph spacing added)

I don’t know that it has ever been different. Years ago, a person might be described as an devout Catholic, a Christmas & Easter Catholic, fallen away Catholic or even a Irish Catholic. It is just shorthand so a person doesn’t have to explain or write a paragraph on every person they are talking about.

I just don’t see any problem with it. If I start a sentence “John, a traditional Catholic…” you know immediately that he is probably attracted to the Latin Mass and views the changes in the Church since Vatican II as not helpful. John probably takes a very black & white view of morality. John sees no need to change the disciplines of the past without a very good reason.

Likewise, I could add that “John’s wife Sara, is a typical cafeteria Catholic…” and you would know that Sara has a more expansive view of morality. She lets her conscience be her guide, rather than rules that make no sense to her. She sees no problems with change and views the Church as a facilitator for community and fellowship.

You may want to believe we are all just Catholics, but there are types of Catholics–always has been and probably always will be.

[quote=AD BEATISSIMI APOSTOLORUM]There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

Darn those popes and their encyclicals!

It makes it so hard if we can’t use labels for other people to make ourselves feel superior, as if we aren’t all hopeless sinners in total dependence on the mercy of God.

Of course, it also makes it difficult to claim a label while simultaneously rejecting what that label claims to believe. None of us fit perfectly into any “box” that people try to put us in. This entire forum of “Traditional Catholicism” shows what a broad spectrum tries to take on that label and how much difference in opinion there is about what constitutes the category.

I am Catholic. No qualifiers. No modifiers. And I will resist any attempt on anyone’s part to try to exercise omniscience in defining what “box” they think I belong in. For that “box” has changed consistently along my journey, as it is supposed to when we continue to grow in knowledge and wisdom. And I will continue to give others the benefit of the doubt that their honest journeys will bring them to the Truth, as I hope mine will for me.

Different “kinds” of Catholics? No, I don’t think so. We may be at different points on our journeys, and more or less prone to sin, but it is our honest attempts to find and do God’s will that make the difference. And as the encyclical says, “… only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.” Anyone who is doing that deserves to be called Catholic, with no modifier attached. For to start attaching modifiers is to take on the role of the one thanking God for not making him like those other sinners, and Jesus made it pretty clear how that all works out.


My my - if this one hasn’t been beat to death, but I absolutely totally agree with the OP…


Hence arose the monstrous errors of “Modernism,” which Our Predecessor rightly declared to be “the synthesis of all heresies,” and solemnly condemned. We hereby renew that condemnation in all its fulness, Venerable Brethren, and as the plague is not yet entirely stamped out, but lurks here and there in hidden places, We exhort all to be carefully here and there in hidden places, We exhort all to be carefully on their guard against any contagion of the evil, to which we may apply the words Job used in other circumstances: “It is a fire that devoureth even to destruction, and rooteth up all things that spring” (Job xxxi. 12). Nor do We merely desire that Catholics should shrink from the errors of Modernism, but also from the tendencies or what is called the spirit of Modernism. Those who are infected by that spirit develop a keen dislike for all that savours of antiquity and become eager searchers after novelties in everything: in the way in which they carry out religious functions, in the ruling of Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety. Therefore it is Our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: “Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down.” In matters of faith that must be inviolably adhered to as the law; it may however also serve as a guide even in matters subject to change, but even in such cases the rule would hold: “Old things, but in a new way.”

(emphasis mine)

I don’t see anything there that I would disagree with, but it has nothing to do with the question at hand. If the implication is to be that following faithfully the teachings of Vatican II is “modernism”, then you might want to further examine what modernism actually is, and whether someone who does not believe the teachings of Vatican II is truly endeavoring to be what he calls himself.

I never said that you did. Labels are only used for one thing though: to differentiate “us” from “them”. The whole point is that there is no such distinction in Catholicism, as both the encyclical and the Catechism tell us.

Again, there is no need for a starting point as the distinction is meaningless and divisive per Church teaching. If one wants to claim to be a “traditionalist” but then disregard Church teaching when it is “inconvenient”, it presents more than just a bit of irony.

Just because we do something every day doesn’t make it right. Using anything to make “quick judgments” about people is a real danger. Making judgments about actions to take is one thing; making judgments about people’s character is a tricky and dangerous business, which the Church and the Bible tell us to not engage in.

Each individual deserves to be considered on his or her own merit, based on the content of their character, and not dismissed by labeling or grouping to separate them out. As I said previously, the only difference between us is where we are on the journey. All of us need constant loving guidance to stay on the path, and to grow in our knowledge and wisdom. That growth will only occur though when the guidance is done from love rather than threats to be “cut from the herd”.


A Catholic is a Catholic by baptism, and cannot cease to be a Catholic, though they can become a Catholic out of communion with the Church.

As to Vatican II, believing in the teachings of Vatican II does not define one as a Catholic. However, denying the teachings of Vatican II would make one out of communion with the Church’s teachings, and would certainly make it hard to classify one’s self as a “traditionalist” Catholic.

And what purpose do these “descriptions” serve then? Descriptions are meaningless unless they are serving the purpose of trying to separate one thing from another. Defining something as “blue” is only to distinguish it from something that isn’t blue. If that were not the case, then “blue” would not be part of the description since it would serve no purpose. And since the Church clearly states that such qualifying terms are to be avoided because of the division they cause, I’m going to take them at their word and avoid them to the best of my ability.

Again, the Church says it isn’t harmless because of the division it creates. Describing something the Church says doesn’t exist is simply creating division where the Church says there isn’t any. If you disagree, you might want to seek a change to the encyclical and the Catechism rather than trying to convince me to ignore them.

I didn’t realize my “holiness” or lack of it, was at issue here, but the continuiing sarcastic and patronizing tone is noted, as is the reflection it casts on your own motivations.

As to the question, if someone hands me something and says they are a “Jack Chick” Christian, I would look to see what the pamplet said to see what relation to Christianity it had. Whether someone is anti-Catholic or not is not the determining factor in being a Christian, though it might certainly imply a lack of charity unbecoming a Christian. But then, in my lack of holiness, I sometimes show a lack of charity too in making “quick judgments” about people without really knowing what they believe.

If we are ever to achieve unity, it will be by sitting down to honestly try to lovingly come to the truth. It won’t be by casting labels on people that cause them to write you off and not even sit down.

I know from experience that my own re-entry to the Church was the result of people sitting down with me to answer questions and model how the Church lived out its gospel calling. Had I encountered many I find here–however good their intentions might be–I’m sure I would have been labeled in some way and would have left as quickly as I could have found the exit.

Jesus felt that the best way to bring the doubters and sinners to God was to sit down and treat them with love. I somehow doubt that he spent a lot of time saying “Hey you heathen prostitutes and tax collectors, let’s go talk about God”. I tend to believe that the only label he used with them was the one their mothers and fathers gave them, followed by “beloved child of God”, which is after all what each and every one of us is.


People’s piety is not at question here! Rather, the human need to label everything and everyone. perhaps, we could cut to the core of the issue by posing this question: Would you be offended if someone labeled you as something you weren’t, but still said you were a good Catholic? For instance-“You’re a very liberal person, but God still loves you.”

I think this is almost an issue for a psychiatrist, don’t you?:rolleyes:

How else could I feel better than someone else? As they say,“Its hard to be humble when one is better in every way.”

I don’t generally call myself a Christian, as this doesn’t really mean much.

Before the Reformation, there were only Christians - orthodox and heretics.

After the Reformation, there were Catholics and Protestants. So it’s much more convenient to say ‘I’m Catholic’. Than ‘I’m a Christian’ Then add later that you are in communion with Rome.

After Vatican 2, there are now a massive range of people who call themself Catholic. There are hippies, liberals (who dissent from church teaching directly, and aren’t catholic at all), more middle ground, neo-conservatives, conservative-traditional, traditional, sedevacantists and the followers of Pope Michael I. :smiley:

So surely it is obvious that it is no longer adequate to just call yourself Catholic.

See post 2, which is a statement of the Catholic teaching on the subject.

Getting into proclaiming someone to be “more Catholic” or “less Catholic” than someone else is to fall into the trap of comparing my sin to your sin. All sin is offensive to God, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and deserve everlasting damnation but for the mercy of God.

If the Church, in its wisdom, decides to declare someone to be out of communion, that is their prerogative, and they have an investigative and legal procedure for doing so. We do not, and need to, as the Catechism demands, give the benefit of the doubt on the side of mercy, just as in the US one is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

And to use the labels to define “flavors” of Catholicism is to start the “my flavor is better than your flavor” game, when we are in fact just Catholics who might respond to different worship experiences.

I just have to stick to the Church and Her wisdom on this one.


Exactly, John!

And one other thing i would like to mention at this point, is that if someone claims to be Catholic, and yet acts in a very non-Catholic way,he or she is risking excommunication etc . . .Some people don’t realize that what Rome says is FINAL. :thumbsup:

I am fully aware of the Church’s teaching on this.

But the point is, many people call themself catholic, when in fact they are not. Sedevacantists, Anglo-Catholics and those who dissent from church teaching are 3 such groups.

They would all call themself Catholic, but this insufficient and deceiving.

The misuse of the word Catholic is a large part of the problem.

Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved” (Athanas. Creed).

There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

If the issue is simply about using a descriptor, then the answer may be to say Catholic, but not in full communion, or Catholic but heretical or Catholic but schismatic or Catholic but dissents or Catholic but disobedient or Catholic but excommunicated, ect.

To read what that Pope says would be to emphasis both aspects of what he said, not only one aspect. If we only emphasize one aspect we make what he said a lie.

In the end, you are either an obediant Catholic, or you aren’t. There are various rites of the Church (Roman, Byzantine, etc.) so that is a perfectly acceptable distinction to make.

Liberal and conservative are political terms, and both sides are right on some issues and wrong on others. If you follow the teachings of the Church, some groups (like Call to Action) will say you’re conservative. Other groups (like any sedevacantist order- and perhaps some followers of SSPX) will say you are liberal.

Radical- a heterodox Catholic who is either traditional or progressive and takes that to the extreme.

Traditional- You like the traditions of the Church that come from pre-Vatican II times (which may exclude things that are said to have originated in the early Church- but were not around in the Tridentine era)

Progressive- You like the modern innovations in the Church, or you want to “go back to the early Church” and follow practices that have not been followed for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Orthodox- you follow the teachings of the Magisterium

Heterodox- you don’t.

I like being called a traditionalist.

Its kind of like how I never call myself a Christian. When people think Christian they think Protestant.
So I always call myself a Traditional Roman Catholic.

Catholic- Becomes im in the Catholic Church
Roman- Becomes im under the Bishop of Rome
Traditional- Because I live my life as the above two the way the Church has always done before VII.

Anything else just doesn’t quite do justice.

Just like if I was asking a friend what religion he was…Id expect him to answer (assuming he’s christian)

Im a Baptist. Im a Lutheran. Im a Episcopallian. etc. etc.

If he was to answer “Im Christian” Id ask for more specifications till I could properly discern his religious background.

I likewise can’t fathom why some people would openly refer to themselves as “traditional” or “liberal” Catholic, instead of just plain and simple Catholic. In all honesty, I now tend to believe some people do this to proudly set themselves apart from the rest, somewhat like the pharisee who prayed in the temple thanking God that he was not like the rest. I hope I’m only mistaken.

The Church is a big organisation, and we can distinguish some stands of opinion or practise within it. To complain about giving them names is to complain about having language.

However most Catholics, like myself, are not members of any formal organisation that expresses a certain attitude to the Church. So it can be irritating to be described as, say, “a traditionalist” when only some of the things you are saying are traditional. Also, trad and trendy only has a loose connection with conservative and liberal in secular politics.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit