How Catholics Got Their Name

Have you ever wondered how we came to be called Catholics or what the term Catholic even means? I know I have.

If you look up the definition of the term Catholic, your results will include the following definition: “including a wide variety of things; all-embracing.” Some synonyms include diverse, open-minded, worldwide, and universal. The term Catholic comes from a Greek phrase, “katholikos,” which means “universal.” The term universal originates from the two Greek terms: uni- which means one, and vertere- which means turning. This leaves us with “one turning,” or “turning into one.” The term “church” comes from the Greek term ecclesia which means “those who are called out.” When we combine all of those terms, we are left with this definition of the Catholic Church:

A group made up of those who are called out and are gathered into the universal society which was founded by Jesus Christ.

The term Catholic was first used by the church of Father Saint Ignatius of Antioch in a letter to the Smyrnaeans:

You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

Epistle to the Smyrnaeans

Saint Ignatius of Antioch was the second bishop of Antioch following Peter. He was alive during the times of the Apostles which allowed him to be taught and ordained by them.

Years after his letter, people began to use the term “Catholic” as the proper name of the true Church that was founded by Christ. In the first decade of its history, the Catholic Church was mainly made up of Jewish converts to the faith. By the third century, one out of every ten people were Catholic. Now, there are an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics all around the world!

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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age

Matthew 28:19, 20

The term Catholic means universal, and in this verse we’re told to go “and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus is telling us to spread the word of God without excluding anyone.

Overall, the Catholic Church got its name from what it signifies: diversity, expanding from each end of the globe, and not leaving anyone out. The Catholic Church is a family and a community that you can depend on. Even you make mistakes, get lost, or lose sight of your path, God is there waiting for you to come back with open arms.

It’s the kind of love that is universal.

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