What does catholic mean? (2023)

How teachings and words develop

The development of doctrine is not just a Catholic phenomenon. It is also found among Protestants and all religions or theological traditions. Theological words evolve over time to help explain the deeper understanding of the faith. As Christians ponder the revelation given by the apostles and deposited in the church, the church meditates upon God's Word and meditates deeper and deeper.

The development of the doctrine defines, sharpens and interprets the body of faith. The Bible is not a theological textbook or a detailed Church handbook such as a catechism or study guide. The meaning of the Bible is not always clear, as Peter tells us (cf. 2 Pet. 3:15-16). Countless competing Protestant denominations make this fact clear as they disagree on what the Bible says. It takes the authority of a universal church and the successors of the apostles to properly formulate the teachings of the faith. As an evangelical, I was naïve enough to believe that I could reinvent the theological wheel for myself.

To illustrate the doctrinal development, let's look at the Wordtrinity. It never appears in the Bible, nor does the Bible give explicit formulas for the nature of the Trinity such as are commonly used today, such as "one God in three persons" or "three persons, one nature." But the wordtrinity, as developed in the Catholic Church, is an essential belief for almost every Protestant denomination. The first recorded use of the word was in the writings of Theophilus of Antioch around AD 180. Although not found in the Bible, the early church developed words liketrinityused to define and explain essential Christian doctrine.

While many Protestants object to the idea of ​​doctrinal advancement within the Catholic Church, they have no problem with developments in their own camp - even with novelty and invention. Take the word for examplerapture, also not found in the Bible and not used in any theological circles until the 19th century.

It was the Catholic Church that defined the Most Holy Trinity, the hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in the one Person of Jesus, salvation, baptism, the Eucharist, and all the other doctrines that form the foundation of the Christian faith. It is also the Catholic Church that produced the New Testament - by collecting, canonizing, preserving, distributing and interpreting the books it contains. As a Protestant, I was willing to unknowingly accept the Catholic Church's teaching on the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the closed canon of the New Testament, etc., but I intentionally rejected the full teaching of the Catholic Church. I now see that in the Catholic Church we find the fullness of faith and the visible, universal body of Christ.

The word catholic defined

Catholiccomes from the GreekKatholikos, the combination of two words,to say(concerning) andjust(all). According toOxford Dictionary of English Etymology, the wordCatholiccomes from a Greek word meaning "in relation to the whole" or more simply "general" or "general". The wordChurchcomes from the GreekChurch, meaning "the called out ones," like those called out from the world at large to form a distinct society. The Catholic Church, then, consists of those called and received into the universal society established by Christ.

For about the first decade of its existence, the Church in the Jerusalem area was composed entirely of Jews. But as the Church grew and spread throughout the Roman Empire, it absorbed Jew and gentile, rich and poor, Roman, free and even slave—men and women of every tribe and tongue. In the third century, one in ten people in the Roman Empire was a Catholic. Just like the wordtrinitywas used to describe the nature of God, so the termCatholicsuited to describe the nature of Christ's mystical body, the Church.

But back to the history of the wordCatholic. The first recorded use of the word is in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, who was a young man in the time of the apostles and the second bishop of Antioch after Peter, who later became bishop of Rome. Ignatius immersed himself in the living traditions of the local church in Antioch, where believers in Christ were first called Christians (cf. Acts 11:26). He was taught and ordained directly by the apostles. From the apostles, Ignatius learned what the church was—how to function, how to grow, and how to be governed.

History informs us that Peter was Bishop of Antioch at this time; In fact, Church Fathers claim that Ignatius was ordained by Peter himself. Ignatius must have worshiped with Peter and Paul and John. He lived with them or near them and was an understudy to these particular apostles. Ignatius is known and revered as an authentic witness of the traditions and practices of the apostles.

In the existing documents that have come down to us, Ignatius was the first to use the wordCatholicin relation to the church. On his way to Rome, under military escort, to the Colosseum where he would be devoured by lions for his faith, he wrote: “You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you follow the apostles would. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, so is the Catholic Church" (Brief an die Smyrnaeaner8).

Another early instance of the wordCatholicis associated with Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who used the word many times. Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John, just as John was a disciple of Jesus. Like Ignatius, Polycarp was martyred in a Coliseum in AD 155Martyrdom of Polycarp, written at the time of Polycarp's death, we read: "The church of God that dwells in Smyrna, to the church of God that dwells in Philomelium, and to all the dioceses of the holy and catholic church in every place" (Epistle of the church at Smyrna, Foreword).

Later in the same book it says: “Polycarp had finished his prayer, remembering everyone he had ever known . . . and all the Catholic Church throughout the world.” Then they handed him over to wild beasts, to fire, and finally to the sword. The letter then concludes: "Now [Polycarpus] with the apostles and all the just glorify God and the Father almighty, and he blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls and the shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world" (8) .

So we see that early in the second century Christians started using the word regularlyCatholicas an established description of the Church. From the second century we see the term being used consistently by theologians and writers. One can conclude thatCatholicwas a very early description of the church

Fourth-century Augustine, drawing on the tradition of the early Church, does not mince his words to affirm the meaning and prevalence of the term: “We must adhere to the Christian religion and to the communication in its Church, the Catholic is and is called Catholic not only by her own members, but even by all her enemies" (The real religion7, 12). And again: “The very name Catholic, which not without reason belongs solely to this Church, is so important in the face of so many heretics that, although all heretics want to be called Catholic, if a stranger asks where the Catholic Church is, none of the heretics would dare to point to his own basilica or house" (Against the Mani letter called "The Foundation"4, 5).

The early use and meaning of the word can also be seen in both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creeds. If you were a Christian in the first millennium, you were a Catholic, and if you were a Catholic, you recited the creeds affirming "one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." Unfortunately, some people today try to distinguish betweenCatholicwith capitalCandCatholicwith a little onec, but such a distinction is a recent development and unheard of in the early Church.

Biblical understanding of the wordCatholic

Jesus commissioned his apostles to say: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Mt 28:19-20). As Frank Sheed reminds us: "First notice the triple 'all' - all nations, all things, all days. Catholic, say, means universal.Universal-, we see that it contains two ideas: the idea of ​​all, the idea of ​​one. But all what? All nations, all teachings, all times. So says our Lord. It is not an exaggerated description of the Catholic Church. Not by the wildest exaggeration could it be set up as any other's description" (theology and reason, 284).

Jesus used the wordChurchtwice in the Gospels, both in Matthew. He said, "I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). He did not say "churches" as if building subdivisions, nor did he imply that it would be an invisible church made up of competing groups. He wanted to build a visible, recognizable church, as shown by the fact that he appointed Peter to lead it in his absence. And in Matthew 18:17, Jesus said that if one brother offends another, they should take it to "church." Note the article "the" which refers to a specific entity. Not "churches," but a visible, discernible church that can be expected to have discernible leadership with universal authority.

One can see the sad state of "Christianity" today by comparing it to what Jesus said about "the church." When a Methodist insults a Baptist, or a Presbyterian insults a Pentecostal, which church do they take it to decide? This alone shows the problem when numerous denominations exist outside the confines of "one holy, catholic and apostolic church". Jesus wanted there to be a universal, authoritative, visible - and yes,Catholic– Church to represent him until his return on earth.

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed not only for the universality and catholicity of the church, but also for its visible unity: “That they may all be one; as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. I gave them the glory that you gave me, that they might be one as we are one; I in them and you in me, that they may be made perfect in oneness, that the world may know that you sent me” (John 17:21-23, NASB).

The early church understood the words of Jesus. What good was an invisible, theoretical, impractical unit? For the world to see Catholic unity, the unity of the Church must be a visible, real, and physical reality. All of this is the Catholic Church. From the earliest centuries, Christians have professed that the Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic."onebecause there is but one visible, organic, and unitary Church;holybecause she is called out of the world to be the bride of Christ, righteous and sanctified;Catholicbecause it is universal and uniform;apostolicbecause Christ founded it through his apostles (cf. Matthew 16:18) and the authority of the apostles is carried forward through the bishops. For centuries, this creed has been the statement of the Church.

Even today, Christians must stand confidently and obediently at the heart of the Catholic Church. It was our mother who steadfastly carried out the commission of Jesus Christ for two thousand years. As an evangelical evangelist, I thought I could ignore the creeds and councils of the church. I was wrong. I now understand that Jesus is asking us to listen to His Church, to bind and loose the Church that He gave authority to bind and loose (cf. Matthew 16:19; 18:18) - the Catholic Church that is the pillar and the foundation is truth (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15).

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