Are Catholics Christian? CatholicBridge.com
"what is the difference between Catholics and Christians?"
I had to scratch my head for a few moments because
it never occurred to me that some people didn't think Catholics are Christian. I explained to him
that that is kind of like saying "what is the difference between Americans and U.S. citizens?" The name Christian predates the Evangelical
community by over a millennium, as do the words Bible, and Trinity.
Evangelicals who assert that Catholics are not Christian will have a
hard time standing on that, because they accept the authority of the
Catholic Church every time they pick up the Bible. The history of the
Bible is here.
Any time spent studying the Church Fathers
will make it abundantly clear that early Christian beliefs were
Catholic. Their complete unity over the real presence of Jesus in the
Eucharist is only one example.
I think it is good that Evangelicals and Catholics have lively and
animated discussions on the interpretation of Scripture. That's the spice of
life. Evangelicals do that with each other all the time. That's why there are
so many different denominations. However, I have a big problem with
any organization that says "Catholics are not Christians," because they are
ignoring the history of Christianity. Some who advance this theory, spend a
lot of effort pulling Vatican statements out of context. By saying we are not Christian they are hoping to avoid
Jesus' call a
Christian unity that includes us (Jn 13:34).
I got an email that said:
"I am wondering if you are truly Christian then why do you call
yourselves Catholic? Believers were called Christian in Acts 11 &
no other denomination or religion."
I could ask the same question, "why do Baptists, Pentecostals,
United, Methodist, or even nondenominational communities use those
words and not simply say Christian?" The word Catholic
was used by the year 110 A.D. to distinguish the Church of the Apostles
from heretical teachings. St. Ignatius of Antioch, was a disciple of
St. John, along with St. Polycarp. The Church historian Theodoret
says Ignatius was
consecrated bishop by St. Peter, the apostle, who was the first
bishop of Antioch before
returning to Rome.
Ignatius was martyred in Rome under Emperor Trajan's rule. It
was during the journey to Rome that he wrote his famous letters that contain
invaluable information about the early Church. He was the first to document the
term "Catholic" in it's current form to describe the Church.
It means universal. Ignatius' use of the word shows it was in common
use. His is the earliest extant writing which has "ekklesia katholicos"
is an adjective modifying "Church" in the nominative.
In Acts 5:11 and 15:22 we find "holen ten ekklesian." It is derivative of
the same root as katholicos and is in the nominative and is translated
as "The Whole Church" and then in Acts 9:21 we find εκκλησια καθ'ολης
(ekklesia kathholes) and here Catholic is also an adjective, but it does
not modify "Church" because it is in the wrong case but rather modifies
the words following. Best translated as "the Church throughout the whole
Catholic, referring to the Whole Church was a term in
common use at the time but Ignatius' writing is simply the oldest still
existing text which contains a specific form of the phrase we still use
today as a proper name. That of "ekklesia katholicos," which means "Universal Church". The terms "holen ten ekklesian" which means "The
Whole Church" and "ekklesia kathholes" which means "The Church throughout the whole
of" were also in use, and by the Apostles no less.
The Catholic Church defined the "Trinity" and fought the heresy of "Arianism"
In 325 A.D., the Catholic Church discerned the Holy Spirit's voice
for the doctrine of
the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three person's in one). Yup,
"Trinity" is a Catholic doctrine that predates the Evangelical community
years. That word isn't even in the Bible. The Catholic Church
protected Christianity from the Arian heresy that almost gutted
Christianity in the 4th century when many began to believe Jesus
God" and "fully human."
The Catholic Church protected the Bible across the ages until the Gutenberg
press was invented. Century after century, Monks in Monasteries faithfully
copied Scripture. It would take each monk ten years to copy one Bible and
thousands of faithful Catholics dedicated their lives to this work. Catholics
protected the Bible over the centuries of wars, famines, plaques, the fall of
Rome, fires, and threats from all sides. This was long before any other
In the Synod's of Hippo (393 AD) and confirmed it at Carthage (397
AD). The non-Catholic Bible scholar Peter Flint, who won "best
popular book" from the Biblical Archeology Society for his translation
of the Dead Sea
Scrolls, tells us that there was no
Bible until 397's
when the Catholic Church decided on what books belong there. Before
that there were hundreds of letters and the Septuagint. He said:
"Without the Catholic Church you have no Bible!"
(Peter Flint - Protestant translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls)
The history of the decisions for books to include in the Bible is here.
Even the word Bible is not in the Bible. It was coined by Catholics.
It means books from the Greek word βυβλος-byblos meaning
"papyrus", from the ancient Phoenician city of Byblos which exported papyrus,
the "paper" of the day. We love the Bible. Honest!
The modern Evangelical movement is a result of numerous splits that
occured after the Reformation, in the 1500's. The only other Church not
to be in union with Rome before that was the Orthodox Church which split
off in 1054 A.D. There were also various hersies that came and went,
such as Arianism that said Jesus was not fully human AND fully God.
Some Evangelicals claim they have a direct connection to the early Church
of the first centuries that bypasses Catholicism. If that is so, I would think
the beliefs of modern Evangelicals would reflect the beliefs of the
early Church. However, any time spent studying the Church Fathers will make it abundantly clear that early Christian beliefs were Catholic. The
Church Fathers believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, honoured Mary, had elaborate ceremonies, prayed for the dead, respected the Church hierarchy, baptized babies, apointed bishops,
recognized Peter as the Rock, built the
Church upon him with successors and followed a rich tradition of Christianity.
That was the Christianity of the early days, and is the Catholic Church of
today. A timeline
of the Catholic Church from 1-500 A.D. is here. Beginning with the
apostles, century after century, Catholics died so that Christ's message would
reach the nations. Yes, we are Christians, the originals.
Whether or not someone agrees with
Catholic doctrine is their
prerogative. But all who look at history will admit that Catholics are clearly
Christian. "No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" (1
Jesus has called Christians to unity "that they may all be one, as you
Father, are in me and I am in you." (Jn 17:21) I hope we can love one another
as He has loved us. (Jn 13:34).
Jesus Christ is Lord of all. If you have never made a personal decision
for Christ, I beg you to do so now. It was the best thing I ever did.
Here is an article that
shows you how to do that.
Mark Bonocore answers: The early Church was called BOTH
"Orthodox" and "Catholic." St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of
the Apostles, calls the Church by both these names as early as A.D.
107. The term "the Way" was used by Jewish Christians to describe the
Christian Faith of the New Covenant to non-Christian Jews. From the
Jewish Christian point of view (and indeed from the point of view of
both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church today) the
Church of Jesus Christ is not something separate from Israel, but is
the true Israel --the true manifestation of the Chosen People (see Gal
6:16, 1 Peter 2:9-10, etc.). This is why the Eastern Church is
correct to refer to the saints of the Old Testament as "St. Abraham"
and "St. Moses," etc. For, we are not a replacement for Israel of old,
but an unbroken continuation of Israel under the promised King and
Messiah of Israel, and His Church is His Kingdom of Israel, expanded to
include all the Gentile peoples of the earth. And so, in Acts of
the Apostles, when you have Jewish Christians addressing their fellow
Jews who are not yet full Christians, you will see them refer to it as
"the Way" --that is, the true manifestation of Israel --the "sect" that
truly represents Israel, as opposed to the other Jewish sects (the
Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, etc.) who did not recognize the
true King of Israel, Who is the only "Way" --the "Way, the Truth, and
the Life." But, when Gentile Christians spoke of the Church, they
stressed its truth and its universality; and this is why and how the
terms "Orthodox" and "Catholic" were applied to the Church. And those
two terms exist today.
A suggested prayer to our Lord about the Catholic Church
For those who are struggling with the Catholic Church, I suggest this simple prayer:
"Lord Jesus, I love you and I surrender my life to your Holy
will. Would you mind sharing with me your heart about Catholicism?
Steer me to sources that can answer my questions the way that you would
have it. But most of all touch my heart and share with me your
feelings about the Catholic Church."
I pray you'll find where God wants you to be, and I'm confident
that your simple prayer, something like the above will lead you there. Let me know
how it turns out. I'm confident that He will steer you to the Church
that has been with us since the apostles, and that ministries that come
and go with fervent, magnetic and dynamic personalities will lose
the sparkle, and will appear lack lustre in the simple ageless
experience of Jesus in the Eucharist.
The early Church Fathers describe the Church as Catholic
Here are some quotes of the early Fathers, as found on www.ScriptureCatholic.com
"See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Christ Jesus does the
Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles. Do ye also
reverence the deacons, as those that carry out the appointment of God.
Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.
Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either
by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the
bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; by the bishop,
or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear,
there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is,
there is the Catholic Church." Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrneans, 8:2 (c. A.D. 110).
"[A]ll the people wondered that there should be such a difference
between the unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most admirable
Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and
prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in
Smyrna. For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or
shall yet be accomplished." Martyrdom of Polycarp, 16:2 (A.D. 155).
“…to be in honour however with the Catholic Church for the ordering
of ecclesiastical discipline...one to the Laodicenes, another to the
Alexandrians, both forged in Paul's name to suit the heresy of
Marcion, and several others, which cannot be received into the
Catholic Church; for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey.
The Epistle of Jude no doubt, and the couple bearing the name of John,
are accepted by the Catholic Church...But of Arsinous, called also
Valentinus, or of Militiades we receive nothing at all.” The fragment of Muratori (A.D. 177).
"[N]or does it consist in this, that he should again falsely
imagine, as being above this [fancied being], a Pleroma at one time
supposed to contain thirty, and at another time an innumerable tribe
of Aeons, as these teachers who are destitute of truly divine wisdom
maintain; while the Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith
throughout the whole world, as we have already said." Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:10,3 (A.D. 180).
“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.” Tertullian, On the Prescription Against Heretics, 22,30 (A.D. 200).
”Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the
Church in the bishop; and if any one be not with the bishop, that he
is not in the Church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who
creep in, not having peace with God's priests, and think that they
communicate secretly with some; while the Church, which is Catholic
and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound
together by the cement of priests who cohere with one another.” Cyprian, To Florentius, Epistle 66/67 (A.D. 254).
“But for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before
being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing,
or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or
substance...these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.” Creed of Nicea (A.D. 325).
"Concerning those who call themselves Cathari, if they come over to
the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy Synod decrees
that they who are ordained shall continue as they are in the clergy.
But it is before all things necessary that they should profess in
writing that they will observe and follow the dogmas of the Catholic
and Apostolic Church; in particular that they will communicate with
persons who have been twice married, and with those who having lapsed
in persecution have had a period [of penance] laid upon them, and a
time [of restoration] fixed so that in all things they will follow the
dogmas of the Catholic Church..." Council of Nicaea I (A.D. 325).
“Concerning this Holy Catholic Church Paul writes to Timothy, 'That
thou mayest know haw thou oughtest to behave thyself in the House of
God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of
the truth'” Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures,18:25(A.D. 350).
"[T]he Article, In one Holy Catholic Church,' on which, though one
might say many things, we will speak but briefly. It is called
Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of
the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and
completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men's
knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and
earthly… for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to thee now the
Article, And in one Holy Catholic Church;' that thou mayest avoid
their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic
in which thou wast regenerated. And if ever thou art 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.” Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 18:23,26 (A.D. 350).
"I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the
communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the
flesh, and eternal life. Amen." Apostles Creed (A.D. 360).
"And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the life-giver, Who proceeds
from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is together worshiped
and together glorified, Who spoke through the prophets; in one holy
Catholic, and apostolic Church." Constantinopolitan Creed (A.D. 381).
"Those who from heresy turn to orthodoxy, and to the portion of
those who are being saved, we receive according to the following
method and custom: Arians, and Macedonians, and Sabbatians, and
Novatians, who call themselves Cathari or Aristori, and
Quarto-decimans or Tetradites, and Apollinarians, we receive, upon
their giving a written renunciation [of their errors] and anathematize
every heresy which is not in accordance with the Holy, Catholic, and
Apostolic Church of God." Council of Constantinople I, Canon 7 (A.D. 381).
“We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her
Church, which is Catholic and which is called Catholic not only by
her own members but even by all her enemies. For when heretics or the
adherents of schisms talk about her, not among themselves but with
strangers, willy-nilly they call her nothing else but Catholic. For
they will not be understood unless they distinguish her by this name
which the whole world employs in her regard.” Augustine, The True Religion, 7:12 (A.D. 390).
“Inasmuch, I repeat, as this is the case, we believe also in the
Holy Church, [intending thereby] assuredly the Catholic. For both
heretics and schismatics style their congregations churches. But
heretics, in holding false opinions regarding God, do injury to the
faith itself; while schismatics, on the other hand, in wicked
separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may
believe just what we believe. Wherefore neither do the heretics belong
to the Church catholic, which loves God; nor do the schismatics form a
part of the same.” Augustine, On Faith and Creed, 10:21 (A.D. 393).
"For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom, to
the knowledge of which a few spiritual, men attain in this life…--not
to speak of this wisdom, which you do not believe to be in the
Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me
in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations…so does her
authority…the succession of priests…[a]nd so, lastly, does the name
itself 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…Now if
the truth is so clearly proved as to leave no possibility of doubt,
it must be set before all the things that keep me in the Catholic
Church…For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by
the authority of the Catholic Church…for it was through the Catholics
that I got my faith in it; and so, whatever you bring from the gospel
will no longer have any weight with me. Wherefore, if no clear proof
of the apostleship of Manichaeus is found in the gospel, I will
believe the Catholics rather than you." Augustine, Against the Epistle of Manichaeus, 4:5,5:6 (A.D 397).
"You think that you make a very acute remark when you affirm the
name Catholic to mean universal, not in respect to the communion as
embracing the whole world, but in respect to the observance of all
Divine precepts and of all the sacraments, as if we (even accepting
the position that the Church is called Catholic because it honestly
holds the whole truth, of which fragments here and there are found in
some heresies) rested upon the testimony of this word's signification,
and not upon the promises of God, and so many indisputable
testimonies of the truth itself, our demonstration of the existence of
the Church of God in all nations." Augustine, To Vincent the Rogatist, 93:7,23 (A.D. 403).
"Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: There
is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy
and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, pillar of the
faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of
the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of
the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and
binding sins: who down even to to-day and forever both lives and
judges in his successors." Council of Ephesus, Session III (A.D. 431).
"I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many
men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to
speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of
Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical depravity; and I have
always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this
effect: That whether I or anyone else should wish to detect the frauds
and avoid the snares of heretics as they arise, and to continue sound
and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping,
fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the
Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church…Therefore,
it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such
various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the
prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard
of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation" Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith, 2:4,5 (A.D. 434).
"Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great
and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod
together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the Apostle,
who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the
foundation of the orthodox faith, hath stripped him of the episcopate,
and hath alienated from him all hieratic worthiness. Therefore let
this most holy and great synod sentence the before mentioned Dioscorus
to the canonical penalties." Council of Chalcedon, Session III (A.D. 451).
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