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The term is used in contrast to Eastern Christianity. Western Christianity developed and came to predominate in most of Europe, Northern Africa, 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 to their shared theological approaches and perspectives (e.g., liturgically, doctrinally, historically and politically) rather than to their differences. Today, the geographical distinction between Western and Eastern Christianity is not nearly as absolute, especially after the spread of missionaries.
Although "original sin" can be taken to mean the sin that Adam committed, it is usually understood as a consequence of the first sin, the hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our origin or descent from Adam. With the exception of tendencies such as Pelagianism, Western Christianity is thought to hold this doctrine, which was championed especially by Saint Augustine, who wrote: "The deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin" (De nupt. et concup., II, xxvi, 43).
Most Western Christians use a version of the Nicene Creed that states that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son", where the original text as adopted by the First Council of Constantinople had "proceeds from the Father" without the addition of either "and the Son" or "alone". This Western version also has the additional phrase "God from God" (in Latin Deum de Deo), which was in the Creed as adopted by the First Council of Nicaea, but which was dropped by the First Council of Constantinople.
Date of Easter
The date of Easter usually differs between Eastern and Western Christianity, because the calculations are based on the Julian calendar and Gregorian calendar respectively. However, the date of observance of Easter has only differed within Christendom (in modern times) since the promulgation of the Gregorian calendar in 1582; and further, the Western Church did not universally adopt the Gregorian calendar at once, so that for some time the dates of Easter differed as between the Eastern Church and the Roman Catholic Church, but not necessarily as between the Eastern Church and the Western Protestant churches. For example, the Church of England continued to observe Easter on the same date as the Eastern Church until 1753.
Western Christianity makes up about 90% of Christians worldwide, with the Roman Catholic Church accounting for over half and various denominations making up another 40%. Baptists, Lutherans, and Anglicans are some of the larger and older Western denominations outside the Roman Catholic Church. Hussite movements of 15th century Bohemia preceded the main Protestant uprising by 100 years and evolved into several small Protestant churches, such as the Moravian Church, the oldest Protestant denomination surviving today.
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.
Like Eastern Christianity, Western Christianity traces its roots, directly or indirectly, to the apostles and other early preachers of the religion. In Western Christianity's original area Latin was the principal language. Christian writers in Latin had more influence there than those who wrote in Greek, Syriac, or other Eastern languages. Though the first Christians in the West used Greek (such as Clement of Rome), by the fourth century Latin had superseded it even in the cosmopolitan city of Rome, while there is evidence of a Latin translation of the Bible in the 2nd century (see also Vetus Latina) in southern Gaul and the Roman province of Africa.
With the decline of the Roman Empire, distinctions appeared also in organization, since the bishops in the West were not dependent on the Emperor in Constantinople and did not come under the influence of the Caesaropapism in the Eastern Church. While the see of Constantinople became dominant throughout the Emperor's lands, the West looked exclusively to the see of Rome, which in the East was seen as that of one of the five patriarchs of the Pentarchy, "the proposed government of universal Christendom by five patriarchal sees under the auspices of a single universal empire. Formulated in the legislation of the emperor Justinian I (527–565), especially in his Novella 131, the theory received formal ecclesiastical sanction at the Council in Trullo (692), which ranked the five sees as Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem."
Over the centuries, disagreements separated Western Christianity from the various forms of Eastern Christianity: first from East Syrian Christianity after the Council of Ephesus (431), then from that of Oriental Orthodoxy after the Council of Chalcedon (451), and then from Eastern Orthodoxy with the East-West Schism of 1054. With the last-named form of Eastern Christianity, reunion agreements were signed at the Second Council of Lyon and the Council of Florence, but these proved ineffective.
In and after the Age of Discovery, Europeans spread Western Christianity to the New World and 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 now much less absolute, due to the great migrations of Europeans across the globe, as well as the work of missionaries worldwide over the past five centuries.
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- Harent, Stéphane. "Original Sin." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 7 Jun. 2009.
- "General Essay on Western Christianity", Overview Of World Religions. Division of Religion and Philosophy, University of Cumbria. © 1998/9 ELMAR Project. Accessed 1 April 2012.
- The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article "Latin"
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Pentarchy