Western Christianity

Jesus represented as the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), a common practice in Western Christianity[1]
St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, the largest church building in the world today.[2]
Timeline of the evolution of the church, beginning with early Christianity

Western Christianity is one of two sub-divisions of Christianity (Eastern Christianity being the other). Western Christianity is composed of the Latin Church and Protestantism, together with their offshoots such as Independent Catholicism and Restorationism.

The large majority of the world's 2.3 billion Christians are Western Christians (about 2 billion – 1.2 billion Latin Catholic and 800 million Protestant). The original and still major component, the Latin Church, developed under the bishop of Rome in the former Western Roman Empire in Antiquity.[3] Out of the Latin Church emerged a wide variety of independent Protestant denominations, including Lutheranism and Anglicanism, starting from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, as did Independent Catholicism in the 19th century. Thus, the term "Western Christianity" does not describe a single communion or religious denomination, but is applied to distinguish all these denominations collectively from Eastern Christianity.

The establishment of the distinct Latin Church, a particular church sui iuris of the Catholic Church, coincided with the consolidation of the Holy See in Rome, which claimed primacy since Antiquity. The Latin Church is distinct from the Eastern Catholic Churches, also in full communion with the Pope in Rome, and from the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches, which are not in communion with Rome. These other Churches are part of Eastern Christianity. The terms "Western" and "Eastern" in this regard originated with geographical divisions mirroring the cultural divide between the Hellenistic east and Latin West, and the political divide between the Western and Eastern Roman empires. During the Middle Ages adherents of the Latin Church, irrespective of ethnicity, commonly referred to themselves as "Latins" to distinguish themselves from Eastern Christians.[4]

Western Christianity has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization.[5][6][7][8] With the expansion of European colonialism from the Early Modern era, the Latin Church, in time along with its Protestant secessions, spread throughout the Americas, much of the Philippines, Southern Africa, pockets of West Africa, and throughout Australia, and New Zealand. Thus, when used for historical periods after the 16th century, the term "Western Christianity" does not refer to a particular geographical area, but is rather used as a collective term for all these.

Today, the geographical distinction between Western and Eastern Christianity is not nearly as absolute as in Antiquity or the Middle Ages, due to the spread of Christian missionaries, migrations, and globalisation. As such, the adjectives "Western Christianity" and "Eastern Christianity" are typically used to refer to historical origins and differences in theology and liturgy, rather than present geographical locations.

While the Latin Church maintains the use of the Latin liturgical rites, Protestant denominations and Independent Catholicism use a wide variety of liturgical practices.

  1. ^ Hugh Henry, "Agnus Dei (in Liturgy)" in Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1907)
  2. ^ UNESCO World Heritage: Vatican City
  3. ^ "Christianity in the Roman Empire". Khan Academy. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  4. ^ "Distinguishing the terms: Latins and Romans". Orbis Latinus.
  5. ^ Marvin Perry, Myrna Chase, James Jacob, Margaret Jacob, Theodore H. Von Laue (1 January 2012). Western Civilization: Since 1400. Cengage Learning. p. XXIX. ISBN 978-1-111-83169-1.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Roman Catholicism, "Roman Catholicism, Christian church that has been the decisive spiritual force in the history of Western civilization". Encyclopædia Britannica
  7. ^ Caltron J.H Hayas, Christianity and Western Civilization (1953), Stanford University Press, p. 2: That certain distinctive features of our Western civilization—the civilization of western Europe and of America—have been shaped chiefly by Judaeo – Graeco – Christianity, Catholic and Protestant.
  8. ^ Jose Orlandis, 1993, "A Short History of the Catholic Church," 2nd edn. (Michael Adams, Trans.), Dublin: Four Courts Press, ISBN 1851821252, preface, see [1], accessed 8 December 2014. p. (preface)