Through the descending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus sent His disciples out into the world to proclaim the Gospel truth; the truth was for all people. Presenting a new religion to people was not easy, and even though the Christian Church was one and united in faith, the disciples had to adjust their style of teaching so that everyone could hear and understand. Intrinsically, the culture of a specific region influenced the culture of the local Church. Due to their size, certain cities influenced the traditions of the Church. These cities included Rome, Alexandria (in Egypt), and Antioch (in modern day Syria). Due to the power of the Roman Empire in those days, the seat of the Christian Church ended up being in Rome; and all communities recognized the Pope as the Vicar of Christ and the head of the Church.
In an unfortunate state of affairs, the Roman Empire persecuted the early Church; this led Constantine to consolidate political power in the early 4th century as the sole Roman Emperor. He decreed an alliance between the Church and the State and moved the capital city from Rome to a newly built city in present day Turkey. The city, formally known as New Rome, was nicknamed Constantinople, meaning “Constantine's City.” The Christian Church in the Constantinople area grew in power.
During that time, relations between the Eastern and Western constituencies of the Church suffered strain, and politics played a major role in it. Despite the faith of the church being strong, the local traditions caused unending disputes within the Church. For instance, the Western Church adopted clerical celibacy and the Eastern Church did not.
Theology not tradition or politics caused the first split in the Church. In 794, in an effort to affirm the absolute divinity of Christ, the Council of Frankfort ordered that the phrase “The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son” into the Nicean Creed. The amendment infuriated the local church of Constantinople since the theological inference of such a declaration was unorthodox to many in the East. The fight over the amendment to the Creed led to the Church in Rome and the local Church in Constantinople communally excommunicated each other.
At the beginning, most of the Christians in the East ignored the fight between the two churches and stayed faithful to Rome. However, the 1204 Sack of Constantinople resulted in hostility and it incited the local Eastern Churches to stand against the Church in Rome despite the fact that Rome had nothing to do with the attack and the Pope immediately denounced the violence. At this point, the Christian Church had split into two, creating the Latin Rite Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in the East.
Catholicism As A Denomination
Despite the fall out of the two churches, some Christians in the East remained faithful to the authority papacy in Rome. They are collectively called Catholics of the Eastern Rite (Catholicism of the Eastern Rite). There are numerous Eastern Rite churches. The churches came into existence according to the geographical location of cities, including the original basis of the Christian faith in Alexandria, Antioch, and Byzantium. Other Eastern Catholic Rite churches include the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Ruthenia Catholic Church from Slovakia.
The existence of both the Western and Eastern churches is crucial for a better and deeper understanding and appreciation of the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” In His 1995 apostolic letter Orientale Lumen, Saint John Paul II asked Roman Catholics to feel with Him,
"A passionate longing for the full manifestation of the Church's catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world, expressed not by a single tradition, and still less by one community in opposition to the other; and that we too may be granted a full taste of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church which is preserved and grows in the life of the Churches of the East as in those of the West."