A stranger asks for the Catholic Church

I’ve seen an argument repeatedly deployed on these forums, taken from Augustine’s Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, 4:

…though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house.

Some posters here see this as a strong argument for the Roman Catholic Church’s claim * to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed.

The problem is this: what would you do if someone asked where the Orthodox Church meets? Would you direct him to your local RC Church, or to one in communion with Constantinople, Moscow, etc.? Or if someone asked where the Evangelical Church meets?

How can this argument be deployed without implicitly recognising that - by the same standard - one must abandon the claim to be orthodox, evangelical, or indeed any other title that is more commonly applied to a separate church?*

Well, Geordie lad/hinny {not sure whether you are male or female], if someone asked me where the local Orthodox church was, and I knew, I would direct them to it. I might also add the question was he/she Orthodox, and mention that I am Roman Catholic.

ps. My sainted mother was/is a Geordie, and I nah some of the lingo and traditional songs. I first swam in Fenham Baths many moons ago, and remember the yellow trolley buses.

I recently made the comparison of different nations that are part of the Americas yet most people would agree that the nationality called “Americans” is normally referred to those living in the United States.

Lutherans profess the ‘Catholic’ faith each Sunday and an observation of their worship strongly suggests an affinity with the Roman Catholic church rather than most Protestant denominations yet if “a stranger asks for the Catholic Church” Lutherans would point to the nearest Roman Catholic parish.

I’m looking forward to seeing the responses from our Roman Catholic friends.:popcorn:

As a catholic, I find the argument you described to be one of the more obnoxious attempts at a “gotcha” quote on the boards. The names we use to describe our churches - Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, etc. are simply that - descriptors. The meanings that we ascribe to words often do not adequately describe what we truly mean (especially in our peculiar English language).

I’m going to stop myself from regurgitating four years’ worth of study in Communication Theory, and instead ask everyone to think about the word, “kleenex.” It is a brand name for the object that most English-speakers call a “tissue.” Yet the word “kleenex” has become synonymous with “tissue” in some parts of the English-speaking world, and some people go their entire lives calling the object in question a “kleenex.” This doesn’t change the fact that the object is, and always has been, a tissue. Similarly, some people have taken to calling their own (and others’) churches by other names - like “Lutheran.” The Lutheran Reformers knew themselves to be Catholic, or Evangelical Catholic. It was those Catholics in communion with Rome who initially called the Evangelical Catholics “Lutheran,” in a bid to discredit Lutherans as followers of a German monk, rather than Christ. In time, even the Evangelical Catholics began to call themselves “Lutheran.” To continue the analogy, though Lutherans today are largely known as “kleenex,” they are still “tissue.” :twocents:

If someone asks me for a Baptist church, I will gladly point out the nearest one I know of. Same with Presbyterian, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, etc. Why not?

I think this is probably the first post containing Geordie dialect on these boards! :cool:

In all seriousness, though, shouldn’t you as a Roman Catholic direct them to an orthodox, i.e. Roman Catholic church? Or at least object to their use of the word Orthodox? Or make a mental reservation in allowing them to so use it?

Common enough, of course, for a group to accept an originally insulting name given it by others: Methodist, Quaker, Whig, Tory …. and (some say) Welsh!

Semantics, nothing more.

The evangelical, orthodox, holy, apostolic universal Church is the Catholic Church which is headquartered in Rome and led by the Pope in communion with the Bishops.


That’s great, but it’s also really not an answer to my question. Do you think Augustine’s argument above, used by some posters here, is still valid or not?

Fixed. :cool:


Point the finger please.

I wasn’t aware that statement was meant to be an argument at all. It’s more of an observation. Catholic means “universal” and its the Church stemmed directly from the apostles and Christ. I don’t know the full context of when Augustine made that statement, but I’m assuming he was talking about how every group wants to be considered the “real deal”, and in that sense, they want to be called the universal Church. Even a liberal non-denominational Christian with a nebulous set of personal perspectives heavily borrowed from X, Y, and Z neopagan/secular trends probably isn’t going to come out and say “Yeah, I admit it: I’m defying the gospel of Christ”. They’re going to concoct some sort of explanation of how they are a representative of how Christianity was truly meant to be.

Just the word ‘Catholic’ by itself can be vague. If we’re referring to the Body under the Bishop of Rome, then it becomes irreducibly specific.

:smiley: Fair enough, Jose. Fair enough. I can’t recall you, personally, ever using this argument.

I think that it’s generally a bad idea to single out individual posters in situations such as this, but on the basis that my argument is going to look substantially weaker if you suggest that this argument is not deployed, I will give a few examples.




Regardless, I’d be happy to delete these links if people think it’s unfair to single people out when they’re not necessarily around to comment on this thread. I’m just as happy to pose the question as to whether it’s ok to deploy Augustine’s argument nowadays.


Thanks for the links! I’ve seen it before on the forums where a “spin-off” thread is started from a different one (s). And sometimes the context can get lost without the handy reference.

It is in a way a call out, but I think you are doing it out of respect. After all, if a person doesn’t want to be called out — they probably should not be posting on a public forum in the innernets! :slight_smile:

Doesn’t the arguement against people who skisim? They claim to be following the true faith from what they seperated from, but don’t openly claim themselves as the faith they seperated from! I don’t know its really a good analogy to try to transplat the logic into different circumstance where those in skism ask another in skism where the skismists meet. :smiley: Remeber the underlying idea is in the one church and one body and those that seperated from it, not how/why they seperated from it.

After seeing the posts and their context, they refer to the conversation of those branches of Protestantism that understand them to belong to the Catholic Church.

I’ll be the first on to point to the Dominus Iesus document that expresses that all those who are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are members of the Catholic Church — although some might be in an imperfect union with the Church.

In this aspect - for example - where JonNC says that his Church is part of the Catholic Church - Jon is referring to a more advanced theological understanding. I know for a fact, JonNC being steadfast and truthful - that if someone came to him and asked him - where is the Catholic Church? - Jon would point that person to the Catholic Church - and here I am speaking of the one in Communion with the Bishop of Rome. I am pretty sure you would do the same. Unless you are always up for a deep theological debate in the middle of the street - and I’m ok if that is how you roll :cool:.

However, the context you are bringing up - this specific argument is not valid - because obviously if someone asks me about where is the Pentecostal Church - I would point them to the Pentecostal Church.

That’s why I wanted to see the specific thread of the argument.


I suppose if someone asked me where “the” Orthodox Church is I would have to look it up in the phone book or internet as I simply do not know. I live in a small town and there are not any. But if someone ask where “an” orthodox church is I would have to ask, assuming I didn’t fully understand his intent, "how orthodox are we talking?


To me, it’s a pretty simple capitalization issue. Although I couldn’t be certain, I could reasonably assume that he/she meant Orthodox.

Another case is that some Anglicans describe themselves as “Catholic and Protestant”. I can understand, to an extent, why they do that; but I think it would make more sense if they described themselves as “catholic and protestant”.

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