Early Church: Catholic or Christian?


Why is it that Catholics often refer to the early Church as “Christian” rather than “Catholic”? I have noticed that more often than not people on this board will refer to the “early Christians” or the “early Christian Church” in favour of referring to the very first Christians as Catholic.

Have we succumbed to Protestant rhetoric? Do we subconsciously believe that the RCC is a later development upon an earlier form of Christianity? Or is this just political correctness?

Has anyone else noticed this trend, or is it just me?


To be Catholic is to be Christian–in the fullest sense of the word. Catholics use the terms almost interchangably. To abandon the term Christian when referring to the Catholic Church in any context, is to erroneously imply that Catholics are not Christian.

It’s bad enough that Protestants in our time have almost brainwashed Catholics in using the term as synonymous with non-Catholic Christians, as in:

:hmmm: Protestant: “Are you a Catholic, or a Christian?”

:whacky: Catholic: “Oh, I’m a Catholic!”

:nerd: Protestant: That’s what I thought. I, on the other hand, am a Christian!"



If I understand you correctly, you are responding to the apparent disconnect between the terms, Christian and Catholic, especially when referring to the early Church.

My answer is that Christian=Catholic and Catholic=Christian. There is no difference, in the simplest sense. If you can permit this amateur theologian to take a stab at expalining “the disconnect” … The early Christians had to deal with heresy and error from the very beginning, and as Christianity spread, the problem of wayward flocks got worse. Hence the various Councils, like the Nicene Council for instance, were held to more precisely define doctrine and “what is correct” and “what is not correct” to an ever-increasing population of people who called themselves Christian. Eventually, we had the big grandaddy of all heretical splits, the Protestant Reformation, happen. Once that took root, people eventually started asking questions like, “well…what kind of Christian are you?” Are you a Christian, a Catholic-Christian, a Lutheran-Christian, etc. The distinctions arose because people felt they needed to know just where your “allegiances” lay. The trend that you observe is merely Catholics proclaiming Christianity, and not some locked-in-the-basement crazy sect. This is a good thing, IMHO.



One possible reason is that the term “Catholic Church,” while very old (we see it used in St. Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Smyrnians which was written sometime between AD 107-110 so it was probably in widespread use even before this date), the term “Christian” is even older and was probably in greater use than “Catholic” among members of the early Church. It may or may not reflect an improper attitude about the early Church among today’s Catholics. Even if it does, this just means we have to work on re-emphasizing the Catholicity of the early Church.


LOL… reminds me of a question that a cub scout asked me when I was explaining the “…one nation, under God…” part of the Pledge of Alliegiance.

:hmmm: Fundmentalist cub scout: “But what about the Catholic God?”

:ehh: Catholic Cubmaster: “Catholics worship Jesus Christ, the same as you do. His teachings are central to everything we believe.”



need help here how can you answer when a excatholic come an tell you that he is a christian catholic but not a roman catholic?:shrug: need some good apologetics here:rolleyes: thank you. V. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
R. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen:)


First of all, ask him what he means by that. Only then can you begin to discuss this with him without talking past each other. Always define terms.


We only need the term “Catholic” when there are Christian bodies not in communion with the Catholic Church.

I the book of Acts, we read that at Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians. When the term “catholic” appears around 107 A.D., it is already in contrast to those Christians who are members of heretical groups. The Catholic Church – then as now – is the Church descended from and in communion with the Apostles.


Groups like Episcopalians, that believe their apostolic succession is valid, often claim that. I did for 30 years. Lutherans try it also, although their claim to apostolic succession is even more tenuous.

I would respond: Yeah, I’ve heard people say that. But tell me this: If you claim to have Apostolic Succession, and Peter is not in your house of bishops, you’re really just playing games with the Holy Spirit.

Then DUCK!


There are a number of churches/people that want to claim the name ‘catholic’ but want defining adjectives with it, failing to realize that ‘catholic’ meant of the whole and true teaching. So there is only ONE real ‘catholic’ Church. :thumbsup:

Now I sometimes say, “I’m a Kansan Catholic, never been to Rome”. :stuck_out_tongue:



This topic made me think of an awesome quote a friend sent me a little while ago:)

“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant . . . And this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.”
–John Henry Newman


The early Church was Christian, but the commission from Jesus was Catholic. Hence, as early as Christ said it, Christian and Catholic are one and the same.

Catholic means “Universal, and or affecting all areas”

The Great Commission!

Mathew 28:18

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all Nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everthing I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of age.”

In Christ!


"Christian is my name, and Catholic my surname. The one designates me, while the other makes me specific. Thus am I attested and set apart… When we are called Catholics it is by this appellation that our people are kept apart from any heretical name."
Saint Pacian of Barcelona, Letter to Sympronian, 375 A.D…


It was called Christian in the Book of Acts in Antioch and again a generation later, St. Ignatius of Antioch called it Catholic Church to describe how universal the Christianity community is.


Because if they admit that the Early Church was Catholic, then they admit that they broke from orthodoxy, which they claim. They claim that they are authentic, but if it can be proven that the Early Church was Catholic, then they are the dissentors, not the Church.

The Early Church was referred to as the body of Christ, or the Church of Christ, or the Church of God, or the Universal Church of God or things to that effect.


No one in the early church ate crackers or drank grape juice!.

No early churches had boards of deacons that ran off the priests!

No one in the Early Church believed Once saved Always Saved.

People in the Early church baptise entire households–infants included.

No one in the early church believed in sola scriptura or justification by faith alone.

The Early church believed in Confirmation and Annoiting of the sick and Confession and Absolution and when they didn’t know an answer to a question they asked the disciples and when the disciples didn’t know the answer to a question they relied on Peter who was in charge.

Now what part of that Early church isn’t Catholic?!


Good post, good question, the fact of the matter is that what you assert can be proven newadvent.org/fathers


Levi 86 wrote:

Why is it that Catholics often refer to the early Church as “Christian” rather than “Catholic”?

Because it does not make sense to say otherwise.

Christian is the noun, Catholic is the adjective. :slight_smile:



Can you give references to the terms “Church of Christ,” “Church of God,” “Universal church of God?” in the first centuries of Christianity? Then demonstrate that these terms (if they existed) referred to anything other than the Church to which the Catholic Church traces her origins?


:confused: I posted these things in that they refer to the Catholic Church, all of these titles the Church claims, also, I would like to add one, Apostolic.

St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church, On the Eucharist: “we will take great pains to prove that the sacraments of the Church are both more ancient than those of the synagogue… The Church, beholding so great grace, exhorts her sons and her friends to come together to the sacraments…”

St. Augustine, De agon. Christ, III: “Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God has power to forgive all sins”

St. Cyprian of Carthage:
“Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against and resists the Church trust that he is in the Church, when moreover the blessed Apostle Paul…”
…bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also prove the episcopate itself to be one and undivided…The Church also is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness."

Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ…He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church. …He who breaks the peace and the concord of Christ, does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ.

St. Gregory Nazienzen (c. A.D. 329-389), Oration 26: “Seest thou that of the disciples of Christ, all of whom were great and deserving of the choice, one is called Rock, and is entrusted with the foundations of the Church…”

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