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Fr. Matt
Site Owner
Posts: 382

I know that Christ’s followers were first called ‘Christians’ when St. Paul was in Antioch; but when did this group of people begin being called ‘Catholic’?

April 10, 2014 at 11:30 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Fr. Matt
Site Owner
Posts: 382

           Our question this week is one that I’ve received twice recently, and so it will be a pleasure to offer a response here at once! As you’ve noted, the word ‘Christian’ occurs in the Bible itself (at the end of Acts 11), as it says that Saul (who became St. Paul) was brought to Antioch in Syria by Barnabas, “and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.”

          This would have been approximately 15 years after the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus (somewhere around the year 47 A.D.). This Antioch is the one on the Orontes River in Northwestern Syria (near the Turkish border). There is another Antioch (in Pisidia – which is in central Turkey) mentioned two chapters later in Acts, where we hear St. Paul’s first recorded sermon. But, back to your question …

          So, when did we first hear the term ‘Catholic’ used to describe these Christians? Interestingly enough, there is a direct link in the details of the appearance of these two terms (Christian and Catholic). Part of that link is in the city of Antioch (on the Orontes).

          St. Peter was the 1st bishop of Antioch (before he went to Rome). His successor as bishop was St. Evodius. His successor was St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the great early (Apostolic) Fathers of the Church. He was born at about the same time that St. Paul was in Antioch, and he, like Ss. Peter and Paul, died as a martyr in Rome (in the year 117). He penned many letters to other Christians, one of which is his letter to the Smyrneans, in which he wrote (in Chapter 8): “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.”

          This is the oldest written reference we have to the followers of Jesus being called ‘Catholic’. But wait, there’s more! When St. Ignatius wrote this, he did not stop to define or describe what he meant by ‘Catholic Church’. He simply went on with his letter. That indicates that he wasn’t using this for the first time; in fact, he assumes that everyone who is going to read this letter already knows what he means by ‘Catholic Church’. So, although we don’t have a specific date for when ‘Christians’ were first called ‘Catholics’, we do know that it was within the lifetime of the Apostles themselves and their first followers.

          Thanks for such a wonderful question, and – as always – if you have another way of looking at this or other questions of our Faith, please sign on to our website (www.stanthonyniagara.org), and post your own question or response in the Forums section under “Ask Father”.



Fr. Matt

April 10, 2014 at 11:33 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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