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The word catholic (derived via Late Latin catholicus, from the Greek adjective καθολικός katholikos 'universal') comes from the Greek phrase καθόλου katholou 'on the whole, according to the whole, in general', and is a combination of the Greek words κατά 'about' and ὅλος 'whole'. The first use of "Catholic" was by the church father Saint Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans (circa 110 AD). In the context of Christian ecclesiology, it has a rich history and several usages.
The word in English can mean either "of the Catholic faith" or "relating to the historic doctrine and practice of the Western Church".[note 1] "Catholicos", the title used for the head of some churches in Eastern Christian traditions, is derived from the same linguistic origin.
In non-ecclesiastical use, it derives its English meaning directly from its root, and is currently used to mean the following:
- including a wide variety of things, or all-embracing;
- universal or of general interest;
- having broad interests, or wide sympathies;
- inclusive, inviting.
The term has been incorporated into the name of the largest Christian communion, the Roman Catholic Church. All of the three main branches of Christianity in the East – Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church and Church of the East – had always identified themselves as Catholic in accordance with apostolic traditions and the Nicene Creed. Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans and Methodists also believe that their churches are "Catholic" in the sense that they too are in continuity with the original universal church founded by the Apostles. However, each church defines the scope of the "Catholic Church" differently. For instance, the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox churches, and Church of the East, each maintain that their own denomination is identical with the original universal church, from which all other denominations broke away.
Distinguishing beliefs of Catholicity, the beliefs of most Christians who call themselves "Catholic", include the episcopal polity, that bishops are considered the highest order of ministers within the Christian religion, as well as the Nicene Creed of AD 381. In particular, along with unity, sanctity, and apostolicity, catholicity is considered one of Four Marks of the Church, found in the line of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church."
During the medieval and modern times, additional distinctions arose regarding the use of the terms Western Catholic and Eastern Catholic. Before the East–West Schism of 1054, those terms had just the basic geographical meanings, since only one undivided Catholicity existed, uniting the Latin-speaking Christians of West and the Greek-speaking Christians of the East. After the Schism, terminology became much more complicated, resulting in the creation of parallel and conflicting terminological systems.
The Greek adjective katholikos, the origin of the term catholic, means 'universal'. Directly from the Greek, or via Late Latin catholicus, the term catholic entered many other languages, becoming the base for the creation of various theological terms such as catholicism and catholicity (Late Latin catholicismus, catholicitas).
The term catholicism is the English form of Late Latin catholicismus, an abstract noun based on the adjective catholic. The Modern Greek equivalent καθολικισμός katholikismos is back-formed and usually refers to the Catholic Church. The terms catholic, catholicism, and catholicity are closely related to the use of the term Catholic Church. (See Catholic Church (disambiguation) for more uses.)
The earliest evidence of the use of that term is the Letter to the Smyrnaeans that Ignatius of Antioch wrote in about 107 to Christians in Smyrna. Exhorting Christians to remain closely united with their bishop, he wrote: "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."
From the second half of the second century, the word "catholic" began to be used to mean "orthodox" (non-heretical), "because Catholics claimed to teach the whole truth, and to represent the whole Church, while heresy arose out of the exaggeration of some one truth and was essentially partial and local". In 380, Emperor Theodosius I limited use of the term "Catholic Christian" exclusively to those who followed the same faith as Pope Damasus I of Rome and Pope Peter of Alexandria. Numerous other early writers including Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315–386), Augustine of Hippo (354–430) further developed the use of the term "catholic" in relation to Christianity.
Ignatius of Antioch
The earliest recorded evidence of the use of the term "Catholic Church" is the Letter to the Smyrnaeans that Ignatius of Antioch wrote in about 107 AD to Christians in Smyrna. Exhorting Christians to remain closely united with their bishop, he wrote:
Of the meaning for Ignatius of this phrase J.H. Srawley wrote:
This is the earliest occurrence in Christian literature of the phrase 'the Catholic Church' (ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία). The original sense of the word is 'universal'. Thus Justin Martyr (Dial. 82) speaks of the 'universal or general resurrection', using the words ἡ καθολικὴ ἀνάστασις. Similarly here the Church universal is contrasted with the particular Church of Smyrna. Ignatius means by the Catholic Church 'the aggregate of all the Christian congregations' (Swete, Apostles Creed, p. 76). So too the letter of the Church of Smyrna is addressed to all the congregations of the Holy Catholic Church in every place. And this primitive sense of 'universal' the word has never lost, although in the latter part of the second century it began to receive the secondary sense of 'orthodox' as opposed to 'heretical'. Thus it is used in an early Canon of Scripture, the Muratorian fragment (circa 170 A.D.), which refers to certain heretical writings as 'not received in the Catholic Church'. So too Cyril of Jerusalem, in the fourth century, says that the Church is called Catholic not only 'because it is spread throughout the world', but also 'because it teaches completely and without defect all the doctrines which ought to come to the knowledge of men'. This secondary sense arose out of the original meaning because Catholics claimed to teach the whole truth, and to represent the whole Church, while heresy arose out of the exaggeration of some one truth and was essentially partial and local.
By Catholic Church Ignatius designated the universal church. Ignatius considered that certain heretics of his time, who disavowed that Jesus was a material being who actually suffered and died, saying instead that "he only seemed to suffer" (Smyrnaeans, 2), were not really Christians.
Martyrdom of Polycarp
The term is also used in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (AD 156):
The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning in Philomelium, and to all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in every place: Mercy, peace, and love from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied.
For, [Polycarp] having through patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous [in heaven], rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world.
The Muratorian fragment (AD 177) mentions:
[Paul] wrote, besides these, one to Philemon, and one to Titus, and two to Timothy, in simple personal affection and love indeed; but yet these are hallowed in the esteem of the Catholic Church, and in the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline. There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey.
The term is found in Tertullian (AD 200):
Where was Marcion then, that shipmaster of Pontus, the zealous student of Stoicism? Where was Valentinus then, the disciple of Platonism? For it is evident that those men lived not so long ago — in the reign of Antoninus for the most part, — and that they at first were believers in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the church of Rome under the episcopate of the blessed Eleutherus, until on account of their ever restless curiosity, with which they even infected the brethren, they were more than once expelled.
Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria (AD 202) cites:
Therefore in substance and idea, in origin, in pre-eminence, we say that the ancient and Catholic Church is alone, collecting as it does into the unity of the one faith.
Cyril of Jerusalem
As mentioned in the above quotation from J.H. Srawley, Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315–386), who is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion, distinguished what he called the "Catholic Church" from other groups who could also refer to themselves as an ἐκκλησία (assembly or church):
Since the word Ecclesia is applied to different things (as also it is written of the multitude in the theatre of the Ephesians, And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the Assembly (Acts 19:41), and since one might properly and truly say that there is a Church of evil doers, I mean the meetings of the heretics, the Marcionists and Manichees, and the rest, for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to you now the Article, "And in one Holy Catholic Church"; that you may avoid their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic in which you were regenerated. And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord's House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all, which is the spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God(Catechetical Lectures, XVIII, 26).
It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our clemency and moderation, should continue the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one Deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation, and in the second the punishment which our authority, in accordance with the will of heaven, will decide to inflict. Theodosian Code XVI.i.2
Augustine of Hippo
Only slightly later, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430) also used the term "Catholic" to distinguish the "true" church from heretical groups:
In the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep (Jn 21:15–19), down to the present episcopate.
And so, lastly, does the very name 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.
Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church, as it is right they should ... With you, where there is none of these things to attract or keep me... No one shall move me from the faith which binds my mind with ties so many and so strong to the Christian religion... For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. —St. Augustine (354–430): Against the Epistle of Manichaeus called Fundamental, chapter 4: Proofs of the Catholic Faith.
- — St. Augustine (354–430): Against the Epistle of Manichaeus called Fundamental, chapter 4: Proofs of the Catholic Faith.
St Vincent of Lerins
A contemporary of Augustine, St. Vincent of Lerins, wrote in 434 (under the pseudonym Peregrinus) a work known as the Commonitoria ("Memoranda"). While insisting that, like the human body, church doctrine develops while truly keeping its identity (sections 54–59, chapter XXIII), he stated:
In the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense 'catholic,' which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.— A Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies, section 6, end of chapter II
Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church
During early centuries of Christian history, majority of Christians who followed doctrines represented in Nicene Creed were bound by one common and undivided Catholicity that was uniting the Latin-speaking Christians of West and the Greek-speaking Christians of the East. In those days, terms "eastern Catholic" and "western Catholic" had their basic geographical meanings, generally corresponding to existing linguistic distinctions between Greek East and Latin West. In spite of various and quite frequent theological and ecclesiastical disagreements between major Christian sees, common Catholicity was preserved until the great disputes that arose between 9th and 11th century. After the East–West Schism, the notion of common Catholicity was broken and each side started to develop its own terminological practice.
All major theological and ecclesiastical disputes in the Christian East or West have been commonly accompanied by attempts of arguing sides to deny each other the right to use the word "Catholic" as term of self-designation. After the acceptance of Filioque clause into the Nicene Creed by the Rome, Orthodox Christians in the East started to refer to adherents of Filioquism in the West just as "Latins" considering them no longer to be "Catholics".
The dominant view in the Eastern Orthodox Church, that all Western Christians who accepted Filioque interpolation and unorthodox Pneumatology ceased to be Catholics, was held and promoted by famous Eastern Orthodox canonist Theodore Balsamon who was patriarch of Antioch. He wrote in 1190:
For many years the once illustrious congregation of the Western Church, that is to say, the Church of Rome, has been divided in spiritual communion from the other four Patriarchates, and has separated itself by adopting customs and dogmas alien to the Catholic Church and to the Orthodox ... So no Latin should be sanctified by the hands of the priests through divine and spotless Mysteries unless he first declares that he will abstain from Latin dogmas and customs, and that he will conform to the practice of the Orthodox.
On the other side of the widening rift, Eastern Orthodox were considered by western theologians to be Schismatics. Relations between East and West were further estranged by the tragic events of the Massacre of the Latins in 1182 and Sack of Constantinople in 1204. Those bloody events were followed by several failed attempts to reach reconciliation (see: Second Council of Lyon, Council of Florence, Union of Brest, Union of Uzhhorod). During the late medieval and early modern period, terminology became much more complicated, resulting in the creation of parallel and confronting terminological systems that exist today in all of their complexity.
During the Early Modern period, a special term "Acatholic" was widely used in the West to mark all those who were considered to hold heretical theological views and irregular ecclesiastical practices. In the time of Counter-Reformation the term Acatholic was used by zealous members of the Catholic Church to designate Protestants as well as Eastern Orthodox Christians. The term was considered to be so insulting that the Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church, held in Temeswar in 1790, decided to send an official plea to emperor Leopold II, begging him to ban the use of the term "Acatholic".
The Augsburg Confession found within the Book of Concord, a compendium of belief of the Lutheranism, teaches that "the faith as confessed by Luther and his followers is nothing new, but the true catholic faith, and that their churches represent the true catholic or universal church". When the Lutherans presented the Augsburg Confession to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1530, they believe to have "showed that each article of faith and practice was true first of all to Holy Scripture, and then also to the teaching of the church fathers and the councils".
Notes and references
- Western Christianity includes both the (Roman) Catholic Church, Protestant Churches that share historic ties with the Catholic Church, as well as independent Catholic Churches that split later.
- John Meyendorff, Catholicity and the Church, St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1997, ISBN 0-88141-006-3, p. 7
- Elwell, Walter; Comfort, Philip Wesley (2001). Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Tyndale House Publishers. pp. 266, 828. ISBN 0-8423-7089-7.
- "Catholic". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
- (cf. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon)
- "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
- "On Being Catholic Archived 22 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine," by Claire Anderson M.Div.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 532. .
- "catholic". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
- American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.).
- Ludwig, Alan (12 September 2016). "Luther's Catholic Reformation". The Lutheran Witness. Archived from the original on 14 August 2019. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
When the Lutherans presented the Augsburg Confession before Emperor Charles V in 1530, they carefully showed that each article of faith and practice was true first of all to Holy Scripture, and then also to the teaching of the church fathers and the councils and even the canon law of the Church of Rome. They boldly claim, "This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers" (AC XXI Conclusion 1). The underlying thesis of the Augsburg Confession is that the faith as confessed by Luther and his followers is nothing new, but the true catholic faith, and that their churches represent the true catholic or universal church. In fact, it is actually the Church of Rome that has departed from the ancient faith and practice of the catholic church (see AC XXIII 13, XXVIII 72 and other places).
- Bush, John C.; Cooney, Patrick R. (1 January 2002). Interchurch Families: Resources for Ecumenical Hope: Catholic/Reformed Dialogue in the United States. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-664-22562-9.
With other Christians, the Reformed Churches confess faith in "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church." Where is the sign of apostolicity found among Reformed Christians? ...The mark of apostolicity is manifested in the faithfullness to the apostolic witness to "the faith once delivered to the saints."
- Yrigoyen, Charles Yrigoyen (25 September 2014). T&T Clark Companion to Methodism. A&C Black. p. 346. ISBN 978-0-567-29077-9.
On the other hand, Methodists are said to 'form a family of churches' which 'claim and cherish [their] true place in the one holy, catholic and apostolic church.'
- The Nature of the Church. 1952. p. 206.
In the Deed of Union a continuity of Methodism with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is affirmed. First, it is implied, inasmuch as the Methodist Church claims and cherishes its place in the Holy Catholic Church which ...
- Puglisi, J. F. (1999). Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church: "toward a Patient and Fraternal Dialogue". Liturgical Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-8146-5936-6.
Methodist churches see the continuity of the apostolic tradition preserved by the faithfulness to the apostolic teaching. The teaching office which decides what is faithful and what is not lies in the hands of conciliar bodies, the Conferences. All Methodist churches recognize the necessity of a ministry of episkopē, "oversight," and in many Methodist churches this is expressed in the office of bishop.
- F.L. Cross, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1977:175.
- Christliche Religion, Oskar Simmel Rudolf Stählin, 1960, 150
- Scharper, Philip J. (1969). Meet the American Catholic. Broadman Press. p. 34.
It is interesting to note, however, that the Nicene Creed, recited by Roman Catholics in their worship, is also accepted by millions of other Christians as a testimony of their faith—Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and members of many of the Reformed Churches.
- Inventing Latin Heretics: Byzantines and the Filioque in the Ninth Century at Google Books pp.
- "Chapter VIII.—Let nothing be done without the bishop". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Archived from the original on 11 May 2003. Retrieved 21 November 2008.
- Angle, Paul T. (2007). The Mysterious Origins of Christianity. Wheatmark, Inc. ISBN 978-1-58736-821-9.
- "Ignatius Epistle to the Smyrnaeans".
- "Medieval Sourcebook: Theodosian Code XVI".
- Angle, Paul T. (2007). The Mysterious Origins of Christianity. Wheatmark, Inc. ISBN 9781587368219.
- J. H. Srawley (1900). "Ignatius Epistle to the Smyrnaeans".
- [J.H. Srawley, The Epistles of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, vol. II,] pp. 41–42
- another edition, p.97
- "As certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be Christians". Ignatius said these heretics did not believe in the reality of Christ's flesh, which did suffer and was raised up again: "They confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again" (Smyrnaeans, 7) and called them "beasts in the shape of men, whom you must not only not receive, but, if it be possible, not even meet with" (Smyrnaeans, 4).
- CHURCH FATHERS: Martyrdom of Polycarp 8:1 & 16:2. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
- Muratorian Canon (Roberts-Donaldson Translation). Retrieved 15 January 2021.
- Tertullian. CHURCH FATHERS: The Prescription Against Heretics XXX (Tertullian). Retrieved 15 January 2021.
- of Alexandria, Clement. CHURCH FATHERS: The Stromata 7:17 (Clement of Alexandria). Retrieved 15 January 2021.
- "Catechetical Lecture 18 (Ezekiel xxxvii)". newadvent.org. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
- Bettenson, Henry (1967). Documents of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press US. p. 22. ISBN 9780195012934.
- TeSelle, Eugene (1970). Augustine the Theologian. London. p. 343. ISBN 978-0-223-97728-0. March 2002 edition: ISBN 1-57910-918-7.
- "Chapter 5.—Against the Title of the Epistle of Manichæus". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved 21 November 2008.
- Vincent of Lerins. "A Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
- Vincent of Lerins. "A Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
- Heresy and the Making of European Culture: Medieval and Modern Perspectives at Google Books p. 42
- Радња Благовештенског сабора народа србског у Сремским Карловцима at Google Books p. 210