Church teaching on the term "Catholic"

Dear friends,

I’m discussing the use of the term “Catholic” with someone whose position is the following. It may be important to know that we are both Germans.

Her position:
“Catholic” means “universal”, as opposed to “Roman Catholic” which refers to the Church under the Pope. Even Bach writes “unam …] catholicam” in his works, and he certainly wasn’t Roman Catholic.

That was her reply to my initial statement which can be summarised as this:
The term “Catholic” rightly belongs to us Catholics in union with the Pope, and no one else. The term “Roman Catholic” is only used in two senses: First, the liturgical sense, which distinguished the Latin Rite from, say, Greek Catholics, Maronites or any other Eastern Rite. The second sense is employed by Protestants who seek to hook themselves onto the Creeds’ identification of the Church as “Catholic” and who see the Church under the Pope as merely another manifestation of the same.

Now, first of all, perhaps some of you can let me know whether what I described as my position above is in accord with Catholic teaching, which I hope it is, but please let me know if I’m wrong on something.

Secondly, are there any Church documents that provide an explanation of the term Catholic? Say, a Council identified the Church under the Pope expressly as “the Catholic Church”, so as to distinguish other groups, oder some encyclical makes the Catholic usage of the term clear?

Do let me know if you need any more information. :slight_smile: Thanks!

The first issue to address is when the Creed was written and when the term “Catholic” first appeared with respect to the Church (See ECF Ignatius of Antioch’s writings). I can assure you that Bach is quite late to the party and therefore his use of the term Catholic is largely irrelevant to what the term Catholic historically has meant. Now if she wishes to claim that the term was already being distorted during Bach’s time then her argument would be more cogent.
The discussion is not an easy one as the term church also has layers of meaning depending on context. What is the Catholic Church theologically? It is everyone in a state of grace and everyone who died in that state.

The church document you should read is the catechism of the Catholic Church. It is crucial you do some reading so you understand before answer. Resource is free online but you should buy a copy.

I have that, but I didn’t recall any passages from it that would answer my question satisfyingly.

I believe you need to ascertain what you mean by C/catholic. Small “c” catholic does mean universal and it is used, but rarely, for secular purposes. Such as, “He has catholic tastes.” meaning very broad or liberal. Upper case “C” Catholic refers to people of the Roman Catholic faith and the Church headquartered in the Vatican. It is often referred to by only the term Catholic. There are some other Churches (including the Lutheran Chuch) which feel they are also "C"atholic. I think that for the most part you are both correct, you just haven’t clarified your terms.

Other churches both Protestant and Eastern claim to be Catholic because they see themselves as descended from the original apostolic church. However they vary on the scope of the term. All Christians who consider themselves Catholic generally believe in the Four Marks of the Church: unity, sanctity, apostolicity, and catholicity, taken from the Nicene Creed:

I believe in One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

What does “catholic” mean?

830 The word “catholic” means “universal,” in the sense of “according to the totality” or “in keeping with the whole.” the Church is catholic in a double sense: First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. "Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church."307 In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him "the fullness of the means of salvation"308 which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. the Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost309 and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.

The earliest use of Catholic Church is in *The Letter to the Smyrnaeans *by St. Ignatius of Antioch in 110CE.

Chapter 8. Let nothing be done without the bishop

…Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

The term Catholic (usually written with uppercase C in English) was first used to describe the Christian Church in the early 2nd century to emphasize its universal scope.

The non-ecclesial use was common in the writings of earlier Christians such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian, but these uses are not considered ecclesial in nature.

struggle with the Donatists which first drew out the full theological significance of the epithet Catholic and passed it on to the schoolmen as an abiding possession. When the Donatists claimed to represent the one true Church of Christ, and formulated certain marks of the Church, which they professed to find in their own body, it could not fail to strike their orthodox opponents that the title Catholic, by which the Church of Christ was universally known, afforded a far surer test, and that this was wholly inapplicable to a sect which was confined to one small corner of the world…

It was their conception of Church discipline and organization which was faulty. Hence, in refuting them, a more or less definite theory of the Church and its marks was gradually evolved by St. Optatus (c. 370) and St. Augustine (c. 400). These doctors particularly insisted upon the note of Catholicity, and they pointed out that both the Old and the New Testament represented the Church as spread over all the earth. Moreover, St. Augustine insists upon the consensus of Christians in the use of the name Catholic…

Of later exponents of this same thesis the most famous is Vincent of Lérins (c. 434). His canon of Catholicity is “That which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” “This”, he adds, “is what is truly and properly Catholic”

Read here:

8…This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, (12*) which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd,(74) and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority,(75) which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”.(76) This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him,(13*) although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.

chefmomster2 #5 gives the correct reference for the first use of the term, and as Fr John A Hardon, S.J. adds: It is from the Greek katholike meaning “general” or “universal”. Within 90 years it meant also “orthodox” or faithful to the teachings of Christ. (The Catholic Catechism, Fr John A Hardon, S.J., Doubleday, 1975, p 217).

Correction: The quote from Ignatius is the first KNOWN, HISTORICALLY VERIFIABLE use of the term. It is almost certain to have been used plenty before that time but we simply have no record of it - yet. Ignatius uses the term without explanation, as if everyone he expected to read the letter would know what he meant by the term. That is a very strong indication that the term had been used by many and for quite some time.
I have heard some here argue that the term is found here in Acts:
9:31 ἡ μὲν οὖν ἐκκλησία καθ’ ὅλης τῆς Ἰουδαίας καὶ Γαλιλαίας καὶ Σαμαρείας εἶχεν εἰρήνην οἰκοδομουμένη καὶ πορευομένη τῷ φόβῳ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ τῇ παρακλήσει τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐπληθύνετο
GNT Morph

                                         InterlinearReverse Interlinear
                                                                                                                      English (NASB)   ?]                       Strong's                       Root Form (Greek)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
                                                                           [the]("") [church]("") 
                          [g1577]("")                    ἐκκλησία *ekklēsia*
                          [g2596]("")                    κατά *kata*

ekklesia kata - the church throughout - is the translation. It’s been argued that kata and katalico (catholic) are similar linguistic derivations…
From Wiki
Catholicos, plural Catholicoi, is a title used for the head of certain churches in some Eastern Christian traditions. The title implies autocephaly and in some cases is borne by the designated head of an autonomous church, in which case the holder might have other titles such as Patriarch. In other cases a catholicos heads a Particular Church and is subject to a patriarch or other church head. **The word is a transliteration of the ancient Greek καθολικός, pl. καθολικοί, derived from καθ’ ὅλου (kath’olou, “generally”) from κατά (kata, “down”) and ὅλος (holos, “whole”), meaning “concerning the whole, universal, general”; it originally designated a financial or civil office in the Roman Empire.[1] **The name of the Catholic Church is derived from the same linguistic origin.

And so, some would say the term is right there in Scripture.

From the Greek translation (links are operational)

Acts 9:31 the church throughout all [/FONT]ἐκκλησία,[/FONT]καθ’,[/FONT]ὅλης ,[/FONT]τῆς ,Judea and Galilee and Sama’ria…"

[/FONT]ἐκκλησία , [/FONT]τῆς the Church] throughout all [/FONT]καθ’kata [/FONT]ὅλης holos] is therefore the Kataholos Church = Catholic Church. The English word Catholic is a transliteration of the Greek katholikos which is a compound word from kata, which means according to, and holos, which means whole. [/FONT]

Ignatius was bishop of Antioch from ~69 a.d. to ~107 a.d. when he was martyred in Rome. While he is condsidered the first to use “Catholic Church” in writing, he was a disciple of St John the apostle. I think It’s safe to say, that’s where Ignatius would have learned to write what he did. So I think it’s also safe to say as bishop, from 69 a.d. he taught that as well.

If there was any question by some of what "Catholic Church " meant, Irenaeus cleared that up in “Against Heresies” which means if someone took a different view than what Irenaeus was teaching here, they were the ones Irenaeus was writing agaist.
Bk 3 [/FONT]Chapter 3[FONT=Calibri] v 1-3

Ignatius of Antioch used the term “Catholic Church” in a letter dated around AD 107, and he uses it in a manner that suggests he is not introducing a new name but simply using one that has been in use for some time and well-known to his readers.

The renowned Church historian, J. N. D. Kelly, an Anglican, dates the usage of the name “Catholic” after the death of the Apostle John, but he acknowledges that the original Church founded by Jesus called itself the “Catholic Church”.

“As regards ‘Catholic,’ its original meaning was ‘universal’ or ‘general’ … As applied to the Church, its primary significance was to underline its universality as opposed to the local character of the individual congregations. Very quickly, however, in the latter half of the second century at latest, we find it conveying the suggestion that the Catholic Church is the true Church as distinct from heretical congregations. . . . What these early Fathers were envisaging was almost always the empirical, visible society; they had little or no inkling of the distinction which was later to become important between a visible and an invisible Church” (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 5th ed. [San Francisco: Harper, 1978], 190f).

So, yeah…the Christians began calling themselves the “Catholic Church” by the end of the first century or thereabout, and that visible Church, founded by Jesus upon Peter the rock, still exists to this day.

Discussions like this always remind me of this little quote from St. Augustine. He lists the Catholic Church’s retention of the name Catholic as evidence of its authenticity and goes on to say:

[quote=St. Augustine]And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, 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.

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