Every once in an while, I hear a Roman Catholic argue that the proof that they are the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church may be found in their “catholicity” (i.e. “universal-ness.”) They have all different rites (including the Eastern Rites), believers in six continents and all different races, diverse litrugical languages, and etcetera. I always find arguments like these to be anachronistic.–I don’t mean this in an argumentative way, just objectively speaking.
This is because between the years 1054 to 1492, the Roman Catholic Church was found only in Western Europe and it was made up of Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, or some country that was an offshoot of some Germanic invader (Holy Roman Empire, France, England, etc.)
The Orthodox Church was made up of Arabs, Slavs (a group including many sub groups like Bulgarians, Serbs, Ruthenians, Russians, etc), Caucasians, Greeks, Romanians (Latins), and a sprinkling of Egyptians.
The Orthodox had several liturgical languages (Greek, Arabic, Georgian, Slavonic, etc) and the Roman Catholics had Latin, Latin, and Latin…now that’s diversity and catholicity!
It is possible that until the 13th century, demographics suggest that the East had more Christians than the West. At the very least, the East had a higher population in the eleventh century.
In the modern day, the Roman Catholic Church is larger than the Orthodox Church chiefly due to colonization and imperialism after the year 1492. This is a well established fact. The ethnic diversity of Roman Catholicism (Filipinos, Latinos, North Americans, Subsaharan Africans, etcetera) are all due to the often violent expanisionism of Western powers.
Ironically, if you compare the 2018 populations of European Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, they are wrongly equal (in the high 200 millions.) Roman Catholicism’s edge in numbers is purely because of Western expansionism. Period. Perhaps this is the providence of God, but it would have not been a mark of “catholicity” for about 500 years after the West was in schism…which makes it a questionable criteria at best.
Missionary activity, as we know it today, where Christianity is spread through education and peaceful means was, you guessed it, first found among the Orthodox. Saints Cyril and Methodius did not convince slavic peoples, nor did Saint Photius convince Kiev Rus, to become Christians by violent means. To this day, Orthodoxy remains in countries where it was principally evangelized peacefully and not by force.
And this is the crossroads Orthodoxy is at today. Orthodoxy hit its low-point (Turkish domination and then Communism) when the West hit its economic and political zenith. The modern form of evangelization (by education and charity) didn’t really take root in the West until the 20th century, after Imperialism fell apart. Ironically, modern evangelism has more in common with modern corporate-promotion than historical evangelism. This not a bad thing necessarily, but it shows how we take for granted that evangelism should look like soup kitchens and schools, when for most of Christian history this would have been largely alien. Modern evangelism is a reflection of modern, consumer culture.
I will happily concede that Orthodoxy is playing catch up in this Department and simply does not at present have the resources to draw upon to build massive churches and fund massive projects throughout the world, which we see especially among Protestants–the Roman Catholics mostly stay to the lands which were imperialized by Roman Catholic powers.
So, what will “catholicity” look like in another 500 years? Who knows