"Roman" Catholic?

When was the term “Roman” Catholic first used? Why didn’t they just stick with just “Catholic”?

It was first used by protestants, and was intended to be a mildly insulting term. The Catholic Church typically does not use the term in any official documents (I’ve only ever been able to find it used in a couple of documents from small Vatican sub-departments, and it seems to be a lack of good proof-reading). No Pope or Ecumenical Council has ever used the term.

Catholic laity use the term without knowing of its origin, and thus it has become less offensive. This is similar to the term “Mormon” which was originally mildly insulting, but which has actually been adopted by the LDS church and is not considered derogatory today.

There is never a good reason to use the phrase “Roman Catholic.” The word “Catholic” means “universal,” while “Roman” refers to a specific location. When differentiating from other Catholic traditions, it is preferable to use the term “Latin Church” (or, perhaps “Western Church,” though this is a slightly less problematic term than “Roman Church.”)

The term “Lutheran” has a similar origin, that of an insult. The Lutherans of the Reformation era typically referred to themselves as Christian, or Catholic, or Evangelical, the meaning of which is was far different than that used in America today.


It’s a mildly derogative term first used by our separated Protestant brethren. It seems that, in an attempt to separate the Catholic Church of the Reformation era from the historical Catholic Church that can be traced back to St Peter, they added the term “Roman”. It’s become common, even becoming the official name used on the US Census. Of course, it is irrational to say the modern Church and the historical Church are separate entities, but Protestantism hinges on this.

In recent years, anti-Catholics like Jack Chick, Matt Slick, and James White have insisted on calling us much more offensive things, such as, “Romanists”, “Papists”, “Mary-olaters”, and “Wafer worshippers”.

It came to my attention, though I can’t remember how? That it was an attempt and an assumption by Henry the VIII to negotiate with Rome. England would be the Anglo (Anglican) Catholic Church, Rome, The Latin and Greek the Eastern Orthodox. Making three separate yet joined threads of the faith. We all know it didn’t work out that way.
However those in England who felt they had a lligitament right, attested to by apostolic succession to exist as the Catholic Church of the Anglican Rite, continued their agenda to try and diminish Rome’s and their for the Pope’s authority from one of universal authority to one of regional authority only really binding to the Latin Rite.
Calling the Church the Roman Catholic Church implies that it is just one catholic church among many.
There is only one Universal Church and it is presided over by the see of Rome.
Pre affixing Rome to Catholic when referring to the Church is an attempt to make the church a denomination rather than the source.

The Catholic Church comprises 23 Churches. The Church of Rome is one of them, albeit the largest.


The term “Roman Church” starts to appear frequently following the Great Schism with the east, somewhere around 1054. For instance, if you look at the First Lateran Council that followed shortly thereafter, the west is already referring to itself as the Roman church. Just as a practical matter, there had to be someway to differentiate between the “Greek churches” (a misnomer in many ways) and the Roman church.

If you search the Vatican website, you will see that the term “Roman Catholic” and “Roman Catholic Church” is used not infrequently, including by Popes. It’s almost always in connection with inter-church dialogue ie. the Anglican communion, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Catholic Churches.

I think it’s plausible that it did become a derogatory term at some point following the Reformation, but it would have been rather mild insult considering some of the other insulting labels (romish, romanist, papist, popery). Today though, it has lost the pejorative connotation it once may have had. It’s useful to distinguish among the 23 sui iuris Catholic Churches and those not in communion with Rome. There isn’t anything wrong using it today for that purpose.

I am not sure if it was just a generational thing, but we were taught as children that if we read something or heard something that referred to the Church as the Roman Catholic rather than the Catholic Church that we should always verify it’s source and reliability as it would more than likely be of protestant or non Catholic origin and would most likely be presenting a biased or an outright non complimentary view.

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