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The Catholic Church shared communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church until the East–West Schism in 1054, disputing particularly the authority of the Pope, as well as with the Oriental Orthodox churches prior to the Chalcedonian schism in 451 over differences in Christology.

Catholics live all over the world through missions, diaspora, and conversions.

The name "Catholic Church" for the whole church is used in the 1990 Catechism of the Catholic Church, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the documents of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, and numerous other official documents.

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in heaven." Jesus to Peter in the Gospel of Matthew, The crossed gold and silver keys of the Holy See symbolise the keys of Simon Peter, representing the power of the papal office to loose and bind.

The "Catholic" notion was further stressed in the edict De fide Catolica issued 380 by Theodosius I, the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire, when establishing the state church of the Roman Empire.) and the Western Church in communion with the Holy See has similarly taken "Catholic", keeping that description also after the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, when those who ceased to be in communion became known as "Protestants".

While the "Roman Church" has been used to describe the pope's Diocese of Rome since the Fall of the Western Roman Empire and into the Early Middle Ages (6th-10th century), the "Roman Catholic Church" has been applied to the whole church in English language since the Protestant Reformation in the late 16th century.

The position of cardinal is a rank of honour bestowed by popes on certain clergy, such as leaders within the Roman Curia, bishops serving in major cities and distinguished theologians.

For advice and assistance in governing, the pope may turn to the College of Cardinals.

Relatively small in terms of adherents compared to the Latin Church, are the 23 self-governing Eastern Catholic Churches with a combined membership of 17.3 million as of 2010 The Latin Church is governed by the pope and diocesan bishops directly appointed by him.

The triple crown papal tiara symbolises the triple power of the Pope as "father of kings", "governor of the world" and "Vicar of Christ".

The gold cross on a monde (globe) surmounting the tiara symbolises the sovereignty of Jesus.

In the 2,000-year history of the church, several complementary expressions of the Christian faith emerged throughout the world, most prominently, the Western and Eastern Christian traditions.

The Catholic Church continues these traditions, through constituent autonomous particular churches, also known as "churches sui iuris" (Latin: ").

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