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Photo by Racim Amr on Unsplash

By Stephen Beale, Catholic Exchange, November 9, 2020

Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism.

Catholic is a term borrowed from an ancient Greek word meaning universal. This universality is one of the four marks of the true Church as expressed in the creed. But just how is the Catholic Church universal?

One immediately thinks of the authority of the popes and ecumenical councils, which are global, whether recognized or not. The many rites of the Church, including the extent to which Eastern rites have been welcomed, also come to mind. Then there is the sheer global scope of Catholicism.

But Catholicism, while it has always been the universal Church, has not always been global in fact. Yet it was still the Catholic Church when it was confined to Western Europe during most of the Middle Ages. Likewise, the number of rites has waxed and waned over time but the catholicity of the Church has remained constant. And yes, the pope has universal authority but this is to beg the question: why is his authority absolute in this way?  …

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