"Catholic" vs Roman Catholic, professor question

My Christianity professor here makes a distinction between “Catholic Church” of the early church and “Roman Catholic Church” as well as the sense of the word “Catholic” vs when it used in the Roman Catholic context. She hasn’t really described what she means in detail. But I was wondering how I could address this issue? I know it’s harmless. She’s a sweet lady. But she encourages discussion.

I wouldn’t get too worked up about it, but rather I’d let it continue on so that people can at least embrace the idea there was a single, unified, Catholic Church in the early centuries. This sets things up nicely to show that this “Catholic Church” actually taught the very same things as the “Roman Catholic Church” - and thus showing the two are the same thing, just using (slightly) different names. The proper understanding of the term “Roman” is strictly to identify the universal chair of authority being the Pope of Rome; the improper understanding is that the RCC is simply a denomination/offshoot of the Catholic Church as a whole.

Focus on asking her what the early “Catholic Church” taught and don’t worry or make an issue about terminology. If Saint Augustine is teaching Baptismal Regeneration, Mass for the Faithful Departed, healing power of Relics, etc, that’s far more important than whether he went by the title “Roman Catholic”.

Probably not worth addressing specifically.

I would suggest however, referring to the Church as simply Catholic when you ask questions, or are called upon it.

If she seeks to distinguish, or insists on doing so, let it come from her.

Out of respect for her authority over the class, at that point, it would probably be best to yield.

BTW, should be worth noting, that the “Roman” prefix originated as an English protestant pejorative, to distinguish the Churches that remained in communion with the See of Rome, from those who chose to thumb their noses at the Church that Christ Himself actually founded.

That said, it is not necessarily taken as a pejorative today–but to me, we will always be the One True Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that Christ founded, and therefore ‘THE Catholic Church’, because the Protestants left that Church–they didn’t take it with them, and that same Church remains.


So, where is “here”? A Catholic university? A university affiliated with a specific Protestant denomination? A public university?


Well, we can speculate, but we can’t really tell you what she means. The first Christian to refer to the Church as “catholic” is St Ignatius of Antioch. The Greek word “katholikos” meaning “of the whole” or “universal”. I would hope that she would have explained that-- after all it is one of the four marks of the Church in the Nicene Creed.

Perhaps you should ask her.

After class or during office hours, ask her what distinction she is trying to draw and how she defines her terms.

It’s not necessarily harmless. words have meaning.

I’m not meaning to get worked up about it or anything.
Like I said, she’s sweet, encourages discussion, and does not want to “talk at” the class. However, I feel like she makes this distinction, when she does it, to suggest that the Roman Catholic Church is a later entity, not reflecting the Christian community early on that was diverse in nature. Today she made a little note contrasting the “Catholic Church” with the Roman Catholic Church receiving orders (or some similar word) from Rome, as if the diversity from the early church was transformed into a unified, orthodox-anxious authority.

I just don’t want to look like a fool if there genuinely was a diversity in the early church. I understand that the pope’s primacy developed over time. And from what we have learned in class, it does seem like there was genuine Christian diversity early on. For example, when talking about Christology.

She has pointed out the the “catholic” used in the creed is a “universal” but not “Roman Catholic” sense. That confused me though, because I always thought/read that by the time of the Nicene and Apostles Creeds (4th century onwards), the church was institutionally known as the Catholic Church. And not just “catholic” as an adjective.

I go to public university.

If she is making a distinction with “Catholic Church” and “Roman Catholic Church” it’s most likely she is coming from a protestant or Orthodox position.

Unless she is simply distinguishing between the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church and the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, she is most likely trying to indicate that the Church was one way in the beginning and then changed.

From what I can gather, I think her view would be that there was much diversity in the Christian world early on, and Rome expresses one of the strands, and that the authority of the Roman church is a later phenomenon.

Right. You will have to ask her if you want a further explanation. I had a religious studies professor at a public university who would argue that the “Roman Catholic” church didn’t start until sometime in the 400s.

Sometimes, people use the “Roman” modifier as a means to argue that the Catholic Church does not go all the way back to the Apostles but was started at some later date. So, no, it’s not necessarily a harmless choice of words.

But the only one who can tell you what she means is her. You’re in college to learn, so you can feel free to say that you are unsure of what she means and would like some further clarification. You can do that in a very non-combative way, and I’m sure she’d love to be able to share her point of view.

I understand the impulse to not want to look foolish in class (my life story! :o), but, honestly, since you are a student there to learn, it is good to ask clarifying questions—particularly if your professor is the type to encourage discussion.

My main question would be, “When exactly did the Roman Catholic Church begin and what is the evidence for that starting date?” It doesn’t need to be a conversation where anyone gets worked up. You’ll learn a little bit about how non-Catholics dismiss the Catholic claims of apostolic succession going all the way back to the Apostles.

Three things you’ll note (and this is for your own knowledge, perhaps try not to start an argument with a professor):

*]The terms “Romish Catholic” and “Roman Catholic”, along with “Popish Catholic”, were brought into use in the English language chiefly by adherents of the Church of England as a way to differentiate what is usually understood to be the Catholic Church, and themselves, as they also consider themselves “catholic”. So this distinction was not originally made by the Church herself, but, what was at the time, a competing church.
*]Nowadays, “Roman Catholic” and “Catholic” are often used interchangeably.
*]A cursory look at history reveals that what was known as the “catholic” church (a name used by Ignatius of Antioch in the early 2nd century) always held in high esteem the Roman church; Ignatius of Antioch himself said that it was the church in the region of the Romans which held the presidency. :shrug:

Yeah, this sounds anti-Catholic… might not be deliberate, but it 100% mistaken.

The Catholic Church even today is diverse. Not all Catholics in communion with Rome are “Roman Catholic.” The Catholic Church is made up of several Rites.

In the early days of the Church, before the Muslims invaded and concurred most of the Christian East, the Catholic Church was equally Eastern and Western (Latin or Roman).

We are called “Roman Catholic” because the Anglicans wanted to hold onto the “catholic” name. But we Roman Rite Catholics are also properly called Roman Catholic or Latin Catholic because we are part of the Roman Rite of the Latin Patriarch (or Church) which is a subpart of the Catholic Church.

Anyway: the reason why the early Church was more diverse is because the Muslims hadn’t concerned 2/3rd of Church yet. The Muslims (who were from the East) predominantly concerned Assyrian, Coptic, & Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox.

Additionally, some mis-understand the Catholic vs. Orthodox schisms.

And finally, most of the influence people said the Emperor had over the Church was really more centralized in Constantinople and not Rome. It was the Byzantine Catholic Church and later the Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Church who tended to encourage or support the role of the Emperor in the Church. The Popes were always against interference from the Emperors, whether they sat in Rome or Constantinople.

I pray this is a help.

God Bless

I am Latin. I belong to the Latin Church (this is my Sui Iuris). The term “Roman” was an insult from English Protestants, and thus, I do not use it. I really feel like (unless I have to tell someone I am not a Melkite or other Eastern Catholic) that “Catholic” should be enough.

Or perhaps she is coming from an historical position.

Yep, you’re understanding her perfectly well. :thumbsup:

It’s a way to attempt to separate the Catholic Church of today from the early Church. By choosing two distinct names, she’s telling ya’ll (subtly, implicitly, but decisively) that she views the Catholic Church as “something different” from the “Catholic Church” of pre-Reformation days.

I just don’t want to look like a fool if there genuinely was a diversity in the early church. I understand that the pope’s primacy developed over time. And from what we have learned in class, it does seem like there was genuine Christian diversity early on. For example, when talking about Christology.

There’s a difference between ‘diversity’ and ‘lack of consensus prior to doctrinal definitions’, isn’t there? It’s intellectually dishonest, IMHO, to suggest that, prior to the official doctrinal statements, there was a kind of ‘diversity’ in which “anything goes.” It was precisely the lack of consensus that catalyzed the attempt to standardize the statement of belief!

She has pointed out the the “catholic” used in the creed is a “universal” but not “Roman Catholic” sense.

Half true. Yes, it’s “catholic”, not “Catholic”. But, “Catholic” is also “catholic”! :wink:

Not to speak for the OP’s professor, but it may not be solely the reformation that the professor is making the distinction when referring to the early church as the Catholic church and the current church we know as the big “C” Catholic church as the Roman Catholic Church. I mean the diagram below and ones like it are not that uncommon in academia. You’ll note the split between the Catholic Church or “Early Christianity” and the current Catholic Church is denoted primarily by the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western churches which came to a head in the 11th century.

And yes this diagram is from a wiki, but I saw similar diagrams in religious studies classes in university (a Jesuit university I’d add). And it makes sense from an academic perspective. The Eastern Churches also claim to have the fullness of faith and can make pretty much the exact same claims as the RCC to being the continuation of the pre-11th century church.

it is unhistorical to say that the Church founded by Jesus Christ is not the Catholic Church.

Today, I belong to that same Catholic Church. Yes, I belong to the Roman Rite, but I’m just as Catholic as a Byzantine Catholic or Assyrian Catholic today.

Since the Resurrection, all Catholics have been in communion with The Seat of Peter.

More specifically, since Pentecost, since that is when the Church came into existence, so to speak.

I have used this diagram also and it is one of my favorites. When I teach or write, I tend to use the term ‘early Christian Church’ to avoid confusion, especially between the Eastern Church and the Western Church. It also helps non-Roman Catholic Churches to understand their lineage. And I agree with you, Padres, that it makes much more sense academically.

Exactly. This is exactly what I was thinking in class today. It’s not as if there was not a consensus among what Christianity was and how it was to function structurally. But, as with the Christological definitions and controversies, these were technical aspects of the faith that had to be worked out over time, in response to new questions.

It’s not a diversity in the sense that I think she wanted to express. Because, after all, the earliest Christian communities had many things in common including apostolic succession, celebration of the Eucharist and baptismal regeneration, etc.

This diagram has some strengths, but one gets the feeling from it that the (Roman) Catholic Church suddenly formed at the date of 1054. This kind of precision can me marked for Protesant groups, but it’s different when talking about the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

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