A mild gripe about Catholic rhetoric

One issue I come across a lot in copy editing books concerns capping or not capping the word "church." For those of you who care, the rule we follow is this:
The word church is only capped in (a) the names of denominations (e.g., The Church of England), (b) in the names of individual congregations (e.g., St. James' Church), (c) in quotes that cap the word.
So, whether speaking of a local church or the universal church, one does NOT cap the word, unless referring to the name of the church. That is not some universal rule, dropped from heaven. It is simply the rule that we and many other publishers follow.

Now authors often follow an older convention of capping the word "church" when referring to the universal church, and this is usually simple for me to "fix" . . . .

The exception to that rule is in Catholic texts.

The issue there is that many Catholic writes use the word "church" (when referring to the universal church) to mean the same thing as "the Catholic Church." There is often no distinction made in speech and writing between churches in communion with Rome (The Catholic Church) and the universal church; no distinction between small "c" catholic and big "C" Catholic. So the discussion will often progress as though the notion of the universal church is exhausted by the Catholic Church.

For my job as a copy editor this means that one is often unsure whether the "church" in question is the church or the Catholic Church, so one does not know whether or not to uncap the word. My gripe is not over the trivial issue of differing conventions on capping. My gripe is that this small matter draws attention to how this way of talking effectively treats those parts of the church that are not Catholic as if they do not exist. It feels like banishment through being ignored.

I appreciate, but almost certainly not adequately, that this rhetoric is motivated by Catholic ecclesiology and there are principled reasons why Catholics may wish to retain it. (I also know that simply adopting older conventions on capping church would resolve the copy-editing dilemma.) But the broader issue would remain.  How should Catholics talk about the universal church granted the lived reality of the church today. The universal church is a lot bigger than the Catholic Church. I appreciate that Catholic theology has moved a very long way towards thinking helpfully about churches outside the Catholic Church. This is great. My issue is more to do with this particular way of talking, a way that perhaps perpetuates less helpful ways of thinking about non-Catholic churches.

OK, now I'll sit back and await the flack.



You won't be joining the Orange Order then?
John Bowen said…
Sorry I can't provide the flack you crave, but then I'm not Roman Catholic. It is an interesting issue. I was brought up to capitalise the universal church, and use lower case for the local church. As a (somewhat) good Protestant, that works for me. But I do understand your dilemma as an editor of ecumenical texts. Presumably the Orthodox would make the same assumptions about typography as the Roman Catholics? Wouldn't it be fun to edit a books of essays by RC and Orthodox authors in conversation?
junia said…
This thought struck me this month. And it is a minor irritant to me too. Meanwhile , I am surfing you blog for Irenaus and original sin. xx

Junia is helen m-h

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