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Catholicism denotes the representation of Roman Catholic Christianity in society , based on the worldview and values that are shaped by the Catholic faith . This includes in particular the resulting political, state and social activities not only of the institutional structures, but also of the Catholic believers, their social forms of organization and customs .

In the course of the development of Catholic social teaching , the term Catholicism emerged in the 19th century with a political-programmatic meaning as a contrast to Marxism and liberalism . From this emerged political Catholicism , which played a special role in the Kulturkampf and formed the basis of the German Center Party . In response to social developments, journeyman and workers' associations and the Volksverein for Catholic Germany were created based on the basic ideas of Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler and Adolph Kolping . The Görres Society and the Austrian Leo Society were founded to promote science . In Germany, the Katholikentage , which has been taking place since 1848, and internationally, the Catholic Action, are in the public eye.

The societies of many states in Europe and Latin America are shaped by Catholicism, in some states such as Ireland and Poland , Catholicism forms a component of national identity. In the German-speaking area, it is particularly common in the west and south of Germany and Austria .


The term Catholic comes from the Greek and means 'all-embracing, total, universal'. The Greek καθολικός is derived (also today) from κατά katá 'from [...] down, through [...] towards'; ὅλος hólos "whole, comprehensive" from. In this sense it is already used by Aristotle and Polybius , but also by early Christian writers; Justin the Martyr , for example, speaks of the “Catholic Resurrection”. This meaning has been preserved in the name Catholic letters for some New Testament books. The phrase " Catholic Church " was first used by Ignatius of Antioch around the year 110 to distinguish it from small groups.


Catholicism in Germany

Since the founding of the empire in 1871, Catholics were a minority in Germany with around a third of the population . That changed after 1945 when the predominantly Protestant areas of the German north-east were lost or core areas of the Reformation in central Germany became the Soviet occupation zone. In the Federal Republic formed from the remaining West German states, Protestant and Catholic Christians each made up almost half of the population with a scarce Protestant overhang until the 1990s, with the politically active and particularly strongly committed Catholic milieu having a considerable effect in the context of the now deliberately non-denominational CDU could develop beyond its narrower limits.

In the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949 to 1989, the Roman Catholic milieu had a great socio-political influence until the 1970s. Not only Federal Chancellors like Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl , but also a critic like Heinrich Böll were particularly rooted in Rhenish Catholicism. Leaders like Cardinals Joseph Frings , Julius Döpfner and Joseph Höffner received a lot of attention, including Karl Lehmann . The German Bishops' Conference , now under its chairman Reinhard Marx , stands for a great public awareness of the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the consequences of the state reunification (relatively strong increase in the statistical proportion of non-denominational Germans), efforts are being made to continue to secure this influence. Nevertheless, one cannot speak of a republic in itself clerical.

According to statistical data from the German Bishops' Conference, the number of Catholics in Germany (1990 to 2007) rose from 28,252,000 to 25,461,000, the number of baptisms from 299,796 to 185,586, the number of weddings from 116,332 to 49,393 and the proportion of people attending church services decreased from 21.9 to 13.7 percent.

The Pope Benedict XVI. On the occasion of the World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005, the Church in Germany called for becoming “missionary”, which could encourage a new tendency that tends to contrast with the cultural environment. The strong ecumenical orientation of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany is currently still being continued. This ecumenical orientation is criticized by some theologians, because the Roman Catholic Church seems to be giving up its own identity by turning to Protestantism.

Catholicism in Austria

As a result of Josephinism , Austrian Catholicism showed a pronounced proximity to the state during the Habsburg Monarchy . During the Austrofascism from 1933 to 1938, Austria was considered a “model state” for some conservative Catholics. Austrian bishops welcomed the annexation to the Greater German Reich in 1938 much more benevolently than German bishops. Burdened by this historical situation, the episcopate used Vatican II as an opportunity to raise its profile as liberal , but conservative tendencies have been increasing since around 1990.

Catholicism in Switzerland

The situation of the Catholic Church in Switzerland is even more difficult to summarize, as the denominational and state church law peculiarities of each individual canton must be taken into account. In some cantons, government agencies exercise indirect control over church affairs through their own organs.

Relationship of the Catholic Church to politics and civil society

Countries in which Christianity is the predominant religion are marked violet (Catholic), blue (Prot.) Or reddish (Orth.)

Pope Pius IX 1870 enforced the definition of papal infallibility in doctrinal questions. This “birth certificate” of the Roman claim in modern times brought about a clear assignment of the papacy to the “spiritual realm” outside of the actual theological problems. The initially involuntary abandonment of papal-ecclesiastical politics inevitably eliminated a major cause of the intransigence of Popes Leo XII. until Gregory XVI. The papal internationalism thus founded at the same time brought Pope Leo XIII. , the founder of the more recent Catholic social teaching († 1903), a great reputation. Confronted with the optimistic humanism of modernity, Pope Pius X (1903–1914) fought for greater religious effectiveness of the church in society. In the First World War, Pope Benedict XV succeeded. moreover, to consolidate Catholicism as non-partisan and supranational. Since then, the Roman Catholic Church has integrated the essential demands of the international peace movement (arbitration, disarmament) into its program.

The overthrow of many European monarchies in 1918 and the liberation of the non-Catholic state churches from political tutelage also opened up new possibilities for interdenominational dialogue, which, however, only found broad acceptance on the Roman Catholic side after the experience of the Second World War.

The programmatic self-correction by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), prepared by Popes Pius XI. and Pius XII. , carried out by Popes John XXIII. and Paul VI. , but has evoked internal crises in the typical Roman Catholic milieus. In each of the predominantly Catholic countries, the situation of the Church was not yet free from the burdens of political conflicts. In Spain the church only gradually found a distance from the Franco regime . In Italy there is still disagreement today as to whether the civiltà cattolica favors a more Christian democratic or a more traditionally authoritarian political stance. The situation is particularly serious in France, where national Catholicism was in opposition to the republic, so that (especially before 1914 and after 1945) there were exaggerations in the opposite direction. More recent ecclesiastical movements in these countries are often rated with political categories by liberal theology, without this corresponding to the spiritual concerns of the renouveau catholique .

The focus of global Catholicism has shifted to Latin America, Africa and, gradually, Asia since the 1980s. Sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly turning to Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church in Latin America faces particularly serious challenges because of its long ties to the European Catholic tradition. A liberation theology has been attempted here since the 1960s, but the Church opposed this as a relapse into concepts that favor a political theology , but which are now to be seen from a Marxist perspective.

In the Anglo-American cultural area, the Roman Catholic Church has been able to gradually gain acceptance since the 19th century, but is still seen as a denominational minority.

All in all, at the beginning of the 21st century, Catholicism is only at the beginning of the task assigned to it by the Second Vatican Council, to continue the religious tradition and at the same time to be “up to date” in the respective cultural environment. In his pontificate, Pope John Paul II tried to personally locate the self-fulfillment of the church as a universal church on a universal and interreligious horizon; With his travels and teaching letters, the World Youth Days and canonizations he received a lot of attention.

Catholicism expressly no longer strives for direct special rights within the state order. In 1984 Italy and the Holy See agreed to renounce the Roman Catholic state religion.


The term Catholicism is used scientifically by denominational studies , phenomenology and sociology to describe the practice of the Catholic faith by the individual believer, but also the social relevance of the Catholic faith. The same applies to the word Protestantism, which describes this among Protestant Christians.

Catholicism is traditionally considered conservative in terms of both morality and politics , but it is also popular ( popular piety ). Community awareness and religious-cultural tradition continue to play a major role. Within Catholicism, there are also various currents, which are often summarized with terms borrowed from politics (especially left- wing Catholicism ) or are referred to as "progressives" and "traditionalists".

Against the background of global social changes, Catholicism, at least insofar as it shaped a traditional cultural area, is in a fundamental process of transformation. Traditional Catholicism continues to be a minority phenomenon among youth in Europe. The dissolution of the typically Catholic milieus causes opposite reactions in progressive and conservative forces. The resistance to integralism is only able to attract a very small minority of Catholics (e.g. Lefebvre movement, with which a maximum of 0.015% of the 1.1 billion Catholics sympathize), since traditional popular piety is falling sharply. From a social-scientific point of view, however, the denominational milieus still have an effect on personal behavioral patterns when the actual church bond is no longer consciously felt.

Claim of the papacy

The central element in the understanding of the Roman Catholic Church is the ecclesiastical hierarchy with the Pope as the supreme bishop . The function of the Bishop of Rome, known as the “Petrine Principle”, visibly distinguishes this church from other denominations. As the successor of the Apostle Peter, the Pope is considered in the Roman Catholic Church as the rock of the universal Church and Christ's representative on earth.

The accusation that the papacy interferes in politics is countered by the Roman Catholic Church that the Christian faith extends beyond the political and social spheres. The Petrine principle establishes a religious internationalism, a worldwide public claim. This in turn can be found in the original meaning of "Catholic" as "general".

As a result of this claim to subordinate religion to politics and society, the Holy See dealt with the respective counterpart in the state area. With centuries of diplomacy , the papal institutions have a wealth of experience. Today the institution of the papacy (not just the Vatican State) is recognized by almost all states in the world under international law.

While Orthodoxy was incorporated into an oriental state church, the bishops of Rome entered into a conflict with the powers of the state that lasted for centuries. In the area of ​​the Latin Church, the claim to the papal primacy emerged with particular clarity in the 11th century ( Gregory VII. , Dictatus Papae , 1075).

In the period since the late Middle Ages, the power of the territorial states increased. These used the Reformation to further increase their authority, incidentally also in the Catholic monarchies. Since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 almost disappeared from the "diplomatic parquet", the papacy seemed to be inferior to the absolute monarchies before 1789. In the post-Napoleonic period, however, it gradually rose again.

Today some non-ecclesiastical observers also judge that Catholicism made an essential contribution to the continued existence of civilization in the 20th century in view of the “crisis of humanism”.


Web links

Wiktionary: Catholicism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Schubert, Klaus / Martina Klein: - The political dictionary . 5th, updated Bonn: Dietz 2011.
  2. a b Catholicism. In: . Retrieved July 16, 2015 .
  3. ^ English explanation from the New Catholic Encyclopedia