The concept of “the Church” has remained among the small handful of unassailable keywords at the very core of Catholicism. The faithful argue about the relative power of the papacy, the episcopate, and the laity; some call for reforms in the administrative procedures of the Vatican; some advocate the decentralization of power away from the Roman Curia. But framing every disagreement is an ecclesiological vision that stands at the foundation of Catholicism, one that defines the Church as something more than a mere institution headquartered in Rome, more than a group of bishops and priests, more even than the entire community of the Catholic faithful. Of course, in casual speech the term can be (and often is) understood sociologically, anthropologically, politically, institutionally, or demographically, but we fail to fully comprehend Catholicism if we consider only the colloquial uses of this word. Even when unstated or thinly understood, a distinctive ecclesiology gives form and meaning to Catholic ideas and ideals.
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