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Western Christianity is a term used to include the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and groups historically derivative thereof, including the churches of the Anglican and Protestant traditions, which share common attributes that can be traced back to their medieval heritage. The term is used in contrast to Eastern Christianity. It developed and came to be predominant in most of Western, Northern, Central, Southern and parts of Eastern Europe, Northern Africa (orginally), Southern Africa, and throughout Australia and the Western Hemisphere. When used of historical periods since the 16th century, 'Western Christianity' refers collectively to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, especially in referral to aspects shared (for example ritually, doctrinally, historically and politically) rather than aspects differing between them.

Today, the geographical distinction between Western and Eastern Christianity is not nearly as absolute, especially after the spread of missionaries.



For most of its history the church in Europe has been divided between the Latin-speaking west, whose centre was Rome, and the Greek-speaking east, whose centre was Constantinople. Cultural differences and political rivalry created tensions between the two churches, leading to disagreement over doctrine and ecclesiology and ultimately to schism.[1]

Features of Western Christianity


Original sin

Original sin may be taken to mean: (1) a consequence of the first sin, the hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our origin or descent from Adam, or (2) the sin that Adam committed. The more common understanding is the hereditary sin meaning. Western Christianity is thought to hold this doctrine because of the influence of Saint Augustine who wrote: "the deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin" (De nupt. et concup., II, xxvi, 43).[2]

Filioque clause

Most Western Christians use an amended version of the Nicene Creed that states that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son". This is considered heretical by most Eastern Christians, who use the Creed as originally promulgated by the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, saying that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father"[3] (See Filioque clause).

Easter's date

The date of Easter usually differs between Western and Eastern Christianity because of different starting dates for Lent.[4]

Western denominations

Western Christianity makes up about 90% of Christians worldwide. The Roman Catholic Church alone accounts for over half of all Christians. The various Protestant and related denominations make up another 40%. Baptists, Lutherans, and Anglicans are some of the larger and older Western denominations outside the Roman Catholic Church.

Most religions listed in the top half are considered part of Western Christianity. The different width of the lines is without objective significance.

History of Western Christianity

Western Christianity traces its roots, directly or indirectly, to the Patriarchate of Rome, one of the original five patriarchates of the Church of the Roman Empire. The Patriarch of Rome, or Pope, along with his bishops and theologians, administered the Church for all of the western provinces of the Empire and continued this role even after the Western Empire disintegrated. Greek was the language of the early Church, which reflected Christianity's origins in the Greek East and Greek's importance in the Empire as a literary language. Following later trends in the western provinces the Western Church gradually switched from using Greek as its primary language to using Latin. Conflicts between factions in the Church existed as early as the 2nd century. But as the Eastern and Western Empires split and the Western lands were gradually assimilated by Germanic kingdoms, schisms and denunciations between the Eastern and Western Churches grew culminating in a final split in 1054 AD.

Rome ruled Western Christianity for hundreds of years. Sometimes Rome, in the person of the Pope, was more powerful relative to the princes, emperors, and bishops, and sometimes less. Western and Eastern Christians twice attempted to reunite; see Second Council of Lyon and Council of Florence.

The rise of Protestantism would lead to major divisions within Western Christianity that remain today.

In and after the Age of Discovery, Europeans spread Western Christianity to the New World and to colonies and contacts elsewhere. Roman Catholicism came to the Americas (especially South America), Africa, Asia, Australia and the Pacific. Protestantism, including Anglicanism, came to North America, Australia-Pacific and some African locales.

Today, the geographical distinction between Western and Eastern Christianity is considerably less absolute than it formerly was, due to the great migrations of Europeans across the globe, as well as the spread of missionaries worldwide over the past five centuries.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Harent, Stéphane. "Original Sin." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 7 Jun. 2009.
  3. ^ Maas, Anthony. "Filioque." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 7 Jun. 2009.
  4. ^ Thurston, Herbert. "Christian Calendar." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 7 Jun. 2009.


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