"Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance." -Opening of the Athanasian Creed
"I believe in the Holy Ghost: The holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints: The Forgiveness of sins: The Resurrection of the body: And the Life everlasting. Amen." -From the Apostle's Creed
"And I believe one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." -From the Creed called Nicene (i.e. Nicene-Constantinopolitan).
From the usage of the word "Catholic" in ancient times we see that it speaks, above all, of the Church and of the Faith of that Church (namely, its doctrine). This word is used by everybody in Christianity, and is the property of no one denomination. The churches under the Pope, the Roman Catholic and the Byzantine (Eastern Rite) Catholic Churches, have been associated with this word in a denominational sense, which causes some confusion. It leads to the bad argument of Cardinal Newman, that if, in any town you asked to be taken to the Catholic Church, you would be taken to the Roman Catholic Church, which makes it, alone, the real thing. Actually, it means the cab driver reads the signs on the front of church buildings, and it proves only that he is literate, at least to that degree. Beyond that, it proves nothing.
It offends some Roman Catholics that others, Anglicans, the Orthodox, the Polish National Catholic Church, sometimes even the Byzantine Catholic Churches, openly use the word "Catholic" as their own property. But, the use of this word by others is not intended as a gesture of disrespect for Roman Catholics, and neither is it used to seduce the naive of their flock into a wolf's lair- the old "bait and switch." It is, rather, respect for what we know ourselves to be, and for what we believe and teach (and the capital "C" is used in the Book of Common Prayer because, by usage, "Catholic" is a name of the Church. We need not use the lower case).
We believe in the Catholic Church, and furthermore, we believe the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (i.e. we believe what it teaches and the Truth to which it testifies). Each of us says these words in the first person: "I believe." This is not a denominational word, but a credal word. It is a word that lives in the persuasion of the mind, the depth of the heart and the power of conscience. It is theological, not cultural. And, as each person says it liturgically, by the rule of Lex Orandi Lex Credendi, each one rightly takes it as his own. We do not say we believe it as someone else's property, removed from us. We do not claim to believe a church that we do not belong to. We do not confess a Faith that we cannot own. We intend no offense or disrespect, and certainly no deception; but, we will not give up this word or what it means, for it belongs to us just as surely as Christ himself is our Lord.
When we speak of branches of the Church, we do not intend even so much as to imply, let alone assert, that outward and apparent division among God's people is the plan and purpose of God. It is not of the nature of the Church that it exists in divided branches, rather it is symptomatic of the current state of all mankind this side of our promised immortality. Partly, divisions are due to the sin and foolishness of fallen man, and the problem of division was addressed long ago by St. Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth.
"For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ."1 He did not say, "the true Church among you are those who say 'I am of Cephas.' " Neither did he say, "the true Church among you are both those who say 'I am of Cephas' and 'I am of Paul'- the double foundation o' foolish Corinthians." Even those who saw themselves as separate because they were better than the others, those who said "I am of Christ," were rebuked by the Apostle for their divisiveness. Paul attributed all of this to childishness and carnality. 2 The idea that these divisions were God's plan, or that one party should be favored as right, and the others condemned as wrong, was not considered by the Apostle. Nor would he consider it today.
But, current divisions into which the Church has been driven are historical, not the fault of anyone living, and they are beyond the power of anyone simply to remedy (therefore I said "partly" above). The Anglican view is that both Rome and Orthodoxy are the One True Church, and so are we. In fact, we agree with The Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that everyone who is baptized belongs to the Church.3 Division is not the plan of God, but he has provided what is needed for the salvation of each soul through the Church, nonetheless. Furthermore, the divisions exist even among members of the same Communions. In the United States each major city has Orthodox Churches of various jurisdictions, answering to different bishops under different Patriarchates. And, before anyone begins to crow triumphantly, let it be remembered that in addition to the Roman (as in Latin Rite) Catholic bishop, in any given city we find any number of Byzantine Catholic bishops (and often feelings of strife exist between the Byzantine Catholics and the Latin Rite, or Roman, Catholics). Nonetheless, people in these outwardly divided bodies, none of whom created this work of history, are part of the Body of Christ and belong to one Church. The Church Militant is visible, and, for the present, visibly divided.
It was never possible, really, for the Gospel to be preached in all nations without the Church having within it differences of culture and language. Therefore, unity has had obstacles, some of them very sad. The division of the Coptic Christians from the rest of the Church as early as the Council of Chalcedon was not about real heresy, but about perceived heresy due to a simple, or rather complicated, misunderstanding of the Greek word, ὑπόστᾰσις (hypostasis). Differences of culture have also caused problems of misunderstanding. But, for the most part, the Church was unified for a thousand years, and only in recent decades (beginning in the 1960s) have the ancient Patriarchates of Rome and Constantinople approached each other in charity with a view to reconciliation. But, they remain divided.
Our common property, nonetheless, is the Apostolic Succession, both as an unbroken line of orthodox teaching, and as a sacramental link through our bishops to the Apostles and the Incarnate Christ, the Risen Christ Who breathed on them the Holy Spirit. This is the Tradition that includes all of our Scriptures with the key that unlocks their true meaning, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our fathers died and were imprisoned during the persecution by the Empire, and they fought for the Faith once delivered to the saints 4 by defending and clarifying that Faith, seen most obviously in the Ecumenical Councils. They preached in times and places of peril to pagans of many tongues and strange customs, overcame opposition, and established the Church of Christ in many lands where demonic spirits demanded sacrifice to false gods, tearing down those shrines to build new holy places for the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.
The mark of the Holy Spirit is the revelation of Jesus Christ that we find as their collective teaching, and the Gospel that was the testimony of the Apostles and other martyred eyewitnesses. The teaching has its universal and complete uniformity of meaning because of the Holy Spirit, who creates unity of mind that cuts through all the chaos of human fallenness, across times and across continents. This is "what has been believed always, everywhere and by all" clearly and obviously in a way that defies the apparent disunity of temporary polities.
This is what we mean by "the Catholic Church" and "the Catholic Faith." This supernatural and visible heritage among mankind is our common possession.
1. I Corinthians 1:11, 12
4. Jude 3