When was the word “Catholic” first used?

Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church

One of the common misconceptions people have about the Catholic Church is exactly when it began. They distinguish between the original Christian Church and then explain that the “Catholic” Church is just one of the many divisions that came at a later date. One of the most common versions of this story is that Constantine invented the Catholic Church in 325 A.D. This accusation, unfortunately, is just one of the many falsehoods about the Catholic Church that gets repeated so often that it’s mistakenly accepted as true.

The truth is that Jesus only started one Church. I’m convinced that this one Church is the Catholic Church. And, in fact, Jesus’ Church is documented as being called the “Catholic” Church by its own bishop from very, very early on in Christianity (Ignatius of Antioch in 110 A.D.).

Now, whether or not Christ’s Church was always called the “Catholic” Church is actually irrelevant to whether or not it is truly the original Christian Church. (i.e. Just because Paul was not always called Paul does not mean he wasn’t the same person prior to the name change.) But it does say a lot that it was called such so early in its history, and most likely from very close to its beginning.

Here’s a quick, clear explanation from Jimmy Akin on just when the word “Catholic” was first used:

For much more similar goodness, I suggest checking out Jimmy’s Book, The Fathers Know Best.

And here’s a related post on the authority/structure of the early Church.

15 comments Add comment

Brandon Vogt October 22, 2010 at 7:16 pm

It’s very telling that the first place ‘Catholic’ was used was also the first place ‘Christian’ was used: Antioch (Acts 11:26).

reddleman October 22, 2010 at 8:42 pm

The fact that Ignatius used a word, katholikos, that was then a common word meaning “universal” but has since changed dramatically in meaning, has absolutely no bearing on the true history of Catholicism.

Brandon Vogt October 26, 2010 at 9:21 am

It “has absolutely no bearing on the true history of Catholicism”? I think that is quite the hyperbole. Regardless of whether Ignatius used ‘Catholic’ in the same sense used by the historical Catholic Church, you can’t help but see the Catholic Church–not the modern Protestant church–in Ignatius’ writings.

His emphasis on the Real Presence of the Eucharist and the Catholic hierarchy, particularly the authority of the local bishop, bears witness that he understood the tenants of the ‘catholic’ Church to be identical to today’s ‘Catholic’ Church.

At the lowest level, this has at least some ‘bearing’ on the true history of Catholicism.

david aldridge January 19, 2012 at 7:21 pm

IGNATIUS was one of the pastors of the seven churches of ASIA MINOR in 107 ad.. the other IGNATIUS we read about is the founder of the JESUSITS,of course you have heard of them… He was also a priest but never a pope that i can find out…..GODS LOVE MY FRIEND.

Seth J. DeMoor October 26, 2010 at 8:45 am

I like Jim’s explanation. Clear, concise, historical, hard to deny those simple truths from 100 AD.

david aldridge January 4, 2012 at 11:48 am

your church started in 100 AD the APOSTOLIC CHURCH was started in 33 AD. proof is found in reading MATTHEW 16th chpt 18 verse ….then read the BOOK OF ACTS thank you david

Matthew Warner January 4, 2012 at 6:14 pm

David, the Catholic Church IS the Apostolic Church. Our line of popes and bishops are directly traced back to Peter and the apostles. Not sure where you got the “100 AD” part. Never heard that before.

Nancy Bartie October 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Thanks for this wonderful, easy to grasp explanation of Jesus starting the Catholic Church.

david aldridge January 4, 2012 at 11:44 am

JESUS did not start the Catholic church. please read MATTHEW 16-18 THEN follow by reading THE BOOK OF “ACTS” you will see JESUS ordained the APOSTLE PETER to start the FIRST CHURCH…..KNOWN today as THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH FOUNDED IN 33 AD

Matthew Warner January 4, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Again, David, the Catholic Church IS the Apostolic Church. Same thing. Peter was the first pope. Look it up in the history books. There is a clear and direct line of succession between the current pope, Benedict XVI, and Peter the apostle.

david aldridge January 4, 2012 at 11:10 am

please go back and read MATTHEW 16 -18 Then read the book of ACTS real good.. that church was started in 33 ad 120 in the upper room, then after Peter preached 3000 were added to the church…..you can’t find any other church started in the Bible except that one….The New Testament Church. The Apostles started it. And that is why it is called “THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH…The first baptised in THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST not just the titles father,son,holy ghost ,,these are only titles..you say your church was started about ad 100, JESUS was dead and gone by then..thank you for reading this……With GODLY LOVE

Matthew Warner January 4, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Not sure who said the Catholic Church was started in 100 AD. It was started by Jesus Christ and the first pope was Peter. It is Apostolic in that the Catholic Church is the ONLY Church that traces its leadership and teachings directly back to the Apostles themselves. The pope has a direct and authoritative line of succession right back to Peter the apostle. It’s the Church of the New Testament, the Apostolic Church…just The Church. It’s called Catholic because it is “universal” – which is what “catholic” means. It’s the Universal Church…just another way to emphasize that the Catholic Church is The Church, the Only Church, Jesus founded.

Peace be with you.

reddleman January 17, 2012 at 9:55 am

Catholics often claim Peter was the first pope, but where’s the evidence? If Peter really considered himself to be the pope, why didn’t he act like it? When you read the New Testament, Peter doesn’t act anything like later popes. He never issues any kind of papal decree; indeed at the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15, he plays a very minor role. There’s no point in the rest of the New Testament, to my knowledge, where any of the early believers expressed any kind of belief that Peter was some kind of pope, at least not in the current sense. Either Peter was not a pope, or modern popes have so twisted the role of the pope from his original example that it’s fair to question whether they should still be called popes at all.

Matthew Warner January 18, 2012 at 8:27 am

Reddleman – Or perhaps on the points where it matters popes today are just like Peter, however, in time, we’ve learned a bit more and come to understand the role of a pope a little better. And then been able to (indeed HAD to) adapt to what the role means in a changing and drastically different world. Certainly we would expect that the role and responsibilities of the papacy in at least SOME sense would change when one goes from a leader of a handful of early Christians in an isolated region of the world to the leader of over 1 billion in ever corner of the world.

Additionally, Jesus gave authority (and the keys to the kingdom) to Peter and his office to “bind and loose” on heaven and Earth. That means he gave the pope authority in at least some sense to further define and change his role in the Church (among many other things) as the needs of the Church required it.

But, finally, I don’t think that’s happened as much as many think it has. The Pope’s role today is not as different from Peters as it may appear on the surface. Sure, they look different in many ways, but I think much of that is cultural and a matter of being rooted in 2000 additional years of wisdom, understanding and history. Every pope stands on the shoulders of Peter and every pope and saint and doctor of the Church that has gone before them. That doesn’t mean at all that the current popes should not still be called pope. And it doesn’t mean at all that Peter was not the first pope.

Further reading on the papacy.

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