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When Was “Catholic” First Used?

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July 2, 2012 by mattfradd


When was the word “Catholic” first used?

The first usage of the word “Catholic,” we have, is from the pen of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Around the year AD. 107 Ignatius was sentenced to death by lions in the Coliseum. As he was being escorted to Rome he wrote a famous series of letters to different Churches.

In his letter to the Church at Smyrna he wrote,

“Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. The celebration of the Eucharist is valid only if it is administered by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Where the bishop is, there let the people also be; just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

The fact that St. Ignatius uses the word “Catholic” without explaining what he meant has lead scholars to believe that the appellation, Catholic Church, may have been in use as early as the second half of the first century.

What does the word mean?

The word Catholic comes from the Greek katholikos, the combination of two words: kata– concerning, and holos– whole – concerning the whole. Also sometimes translated to mean, universal.

Since the time Ignatius used the word “Catholic” and, most probably, well before that, the term Catholic has been used to distinguish between the Church that Jesus established – the universal Church – from the splinter groups that have broken away.

4 thoughts on “When Was “Catholic” First Used?

  1. …and, much like the Trinity, although the word isn’t actually used in Scripture, the reality expressed by that word is certainly found.

    For example, in Paul’s epistles he shows that the Church is universal in that it cuts across ethnic, societal and gender divides:

    “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are *all one* in Christ Jesus” – Galatians 3:28

    …and Paul also shows that the Church is universal in that it is the means by which the Gospel is known throughout the world:

    “Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to *everyone* the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, *through the church*, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” – Ephesians 3:9-10

  2. […] PS If you don’t yet know how we got the word Catholic, see my article, When Was Catholic First Used? […]

  3. wigglytuff says:

    hey Matt how do you respond to these people about rambling about babalyoan mystery religion

  4. MATT FRADD! I want to lean more.

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