The early Christians counted on it: a catholic church was the one
church in each community where all the genuine believers
in Christ worshiped together – as one body.
You know what’s nice about being catholic? It plays to a packed house.
In Christendom everyone claims it. Some go with a lowercase c. Others with an uppercase C. It’s the most common way churches and Christians have identified themselves for centuries. By definition, c/Catholicism, has universal appeal.
Surely you’ve seen how this all plays out. Everyone’s a Catholic/catholic: Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestants, and Evangelicals all claim it. Being catholic gives your Christian pilgrimage a plot line larger than your single life time.
Yet, your life is uniquely your own, and you are living at the end of almost twenty centuries of church history. So for a half hour or so, I offer you a balcony view of ecclesiastical catholicism in the earliest years of Christianity. It’s quite different than what developed later in Rome, or even Constantinople.
I’m claiming here that this ecclesiastical catholicism is local catholicism, and moreover, that it was the catholicism of the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers, a period of time from AD 30 to AD 180 and beyond. Local catholicism was a single church of all the Christians in every city or region, with the emphasis on the word all. None were left out, none separated themselves into other churches. In other words, the local church of all the regenerate is where Christians obeyed Christ’s and His apostles’ commands on love and unity.
Notice the word in The Martyrdom of Polycarp (~155 AD):
“The church of God which is sojourning in Smyrna to the church of
God which is sojourning in Philomelium and to every holy and
catholic church which sojourns in every place…
See how his catholicism is local to both city, and exists in “every place?” Now check this out:
“Polycarp, being… an overseer of the
in-Smyrna catholic church”
Martyrdom, 16:2For those of you who read Greek I’ll include those appropriate phrases and clauses in the footnotes. Here in Polycarp’s Martrydom it is “ἐπίσκοπος τῆς ἐν Σμύνῃ καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας – “the bishop of the in-Smyrna catholic church.”
I translated it the way it was originally written – geographically – the in-Smyna catholic church. This local catholicism featured one non-negotiable: all the genuine worshipers of God the Trinity met together in the same church every Sunday where they lived, and all the other people who gathered in other churches were either heretics or, possibly, disobedient-to-Christ schismatics. Either way, they were sinning against Jesus Christ every Sunday by not worshiping Him with His own body where they lived because they rejected apostolic doctrine.
Question for you, to see if this is clicking. What percentage of the Christians in Philippi did Paul command to stay in church unity?:
“Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ to all the saints in Philippi….
make my joy complete by being of the same mind,
maintaining the same love, united in spirit,
intent on one purpose.
(Phil. 1:1, 2:2)
That’s local catholicism, and it allowed believers to know something you and I never have – the body of Christ where we live. If you read these Early Church writings you’ll see how important this was. Sometimes it was described in the very first sentence of a letter, even as in the apostolic letters (i.e., “to the church of the Thessalonians“). Early Christians despised schism and clung together.
If you’ve made it this far, let me make a distinction. As writers on early Christianity point out there was a catholicism of doctrine among early Christians. However, this was not ‘the catholic’ specifically mentioned in the early Christian writings, for that was always ecclesiological. Instead, it refers to a (properly) derived core of doctrine concerning the incarnation, but itself is never identified as ‘catholic’ in these writings.”My intended application of ‘catholic’ employs the term first used by Ignatius himself in reference to ‘a general sense of a common unity among local churches centered on proper faith in Jesus…” Michael Svigel, The Center and the Source, 49.
Which raises the question, should we even discuss this? Some say we should drop the term catholic altogether, since, after all, the apostles of Jesus Christ never called any church catholic. Point taken. It’s true. The apostles and the prophets of Jesus Christ received “all the truth” and never used the term ‘catholic’ when describing churches.
But let’s not hide our heads in the sand. It does have an awfully long pedigree. After all, the lack of the word ‘Trinity’ in apostolic writings doesn’t mean the apostles were ignorant of trinitarianism. So too, allow some space for ‘catholicism.’ Then see if you agree with me that we should keep this word, so long as it is ecclesiastically defined as all the local saints in one church.
To make the case I’ll walk you through some of the earliest writings that the apostles and apostolic fathers taught a catholicism that is the only kind of Christian church there should be, even today. These writings of the New Testament, which alone are inspired of the Holy Spirit, and the writings of all the most important of the Earliest Church Fathers, always teach this type of church: Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. These writings are not inspired by the Holy Spirit, but are to be respected nonetheless.
Once identified and appreciated, local catholicism slams shut human opinion when judging churches as “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” A properly defined catholicism allows Christians to define any church as either apostolic, schismatic, or heretical, thus allowing for simplified identification of danger and safety for God’s blood-bought children in this world.
The Play’s the Thing
There’s a highly detailed story to be told here, and I’m going to tell it as a stage drama in five acts. To do that, travel back with me a little over a century ago when a notorious play hit the London Stage.
Although tame by today’s standards, it was a concocted comedy about two eligible young men who present themselves to two eligible young females as wealthy and socially important. In The Importance of Being Earnest, the men do all they can to give the girls an illusion of their false importance. They figure the only way to win their hearts is to make themselves into something better than they are.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? The women they woo are all too willing to accept them by their claims in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They fall in love with the men and their false claims. However, at the play’s end everyone discovers that the two men are (surprise?) richer and better connected than anyone knew.
But the play is deceptive. It creates a staged world where false representation of oneself is rewarded with success instead of shame. The duplicitous men gain wives and suffer no ill consequences for their lies.
Even so, there is one positive in the play. When the two men learn of their high status they abandon pretense and misrepresentation. Just so, the Bible’s own catholicism is much better than any Catholicism by which men define themselves. Local catholicism allows us to understand ourselves rightly as the body of Jesus Christ so that Scripture’s own definitions for faith and practice may be fully practiced, such as “love one another.”
Division where we live makes a lot of Christians misunderstand their true ecclesial connection to Christ. If the catholicism in the Bible were obeyed then all schism among the regenerate ends. Every person who is spiritually submissive to Christ drops their pretense that schisms the body of Christ because of the superior “in Christ Jesus” catholicism. Let’s go back to Philippians to see it:
“To all the saints who are in Philippi, in Christ Jesus…
…you Philippians yourselves know that no church
shared with me except you only”
(Phil. 1:1, 4:15).
Did you see it… all the saints in one place in one church? The local body of Christ, that is, local catholicism, deserves center stage by virtue of its biblical and unapologetic identity as the concrete and visible representative of the universal body of Christ in every place. It alone possesses an ecclesial identity so closely connected to Christ universal body that all other catholicisms are character masks.
It is this surprising catholicism of Scripture that rightly deserves all the applause, for it makes the universal body of Christ – all the elect – to be concretely represented where each of us lives, just the way the Lord intended. No other Catholicism/catholicism dares make such claims.
So this article takes you, a reader who likely uses the word “catholic” in a way that likely tempts you to think schism and catholicism share common ground, through a five act play in honor of The Importance of Being Earnest.
I do so for two reasons. First, so you can see that the all modern uses of catholic church (or Catholic Church) are quite different than apostolically defined catholic churches of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries; and second, so you can embrace the local catholicism by rejecting (and probably repenting from) the sin of schism.
Act 1, Scene 1:
The Ancient World and Catholic
First on stage are several ancient men who help us understand what catholic meant before the time of Christ. One online lexicon of ancient Greek texts lists out all the occurrences of “catholic” in ancient Greek sources. Of special interest are the volumes of Polybius’ History of the 2nd C BC because they contain almost 200 occurrences of “catholic,” and Aristotle’s Metaphysics of the 3rd C BC, with 123 occurrences of “catholic.” These two sources provide a good foundation for understanding the meaning of this word.
For example, Polybius writes “none of my contemporaries have undertaken to write a catholic history.” καθόλου, Polybius, Histories, 1:4:2 Here, catholic carries the meaning of “general,” that is, an overview that doesn’t leave out any major parts.
In the same vein Aristotle writes, “Art is produced when from many notions of experience a single catholic judgment is formed.”καθόλου,” Aristot. Met. 1.981a). Aristotle claimed art is formed by pulling together one’s experiences into a complete whole.
Thus catholic is an adjective and not a noun, which before the time of Christ connotated something “whole by whole.” We might say “full” or “complete.””The Aristotilian use of the term καθόλου [catholic] as contrasted with the κατὰ µέρος [part by part] or καθ᾽ ἕκαστον [each by each] survived at the time of the primitive Church mainly under the form of the adjective καθολικὸς,”John Zizoulas, Being as Communion, 143, bracketed segments mine. In other words, the two parts when combined in one word (catholic) mean whole by whole. While many examples could be provided, catholic in the Greek world referred to pulling together related parts into a contiguous and full whole. The result was something catholic.
Act 1, Scene 2:
The Ancient World and Ecclesia
In the years before Christ an ecclesia was a non-religious word that simply referred to a gathering of people. An ecclesia, or “church,” could be group of people called together for some ad hoc political purpose such as a town herald calling all people to gather for his news, or a group that got together every so often. Three examples of this in the New Testament are Acts 19:32 and Acts 19:39 where the Greek word translated “assembly” is ecclesia, while Acts 7:38 is the one-time gathering of Israel at Mt. Sinai. One-time meetings could be, and were, called an ecclesia. Sometimes the ancients might come together “as a city,” as in ancient Athens on regular intervals, and call that an ecclesia.
Groups that met regularly such as athletic teams, trade guilds, or religious groups (pagan and Jewish) were not called churches since the concept of being “called out,” which is the word’s root meaning, didn’t make sense. All such groups, and especially religious groups, came together, not because they were called to come gather together, but because of shared commitments. In distinction the church is called out from all sort of dissimilar people by God: “the church of God being at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). Ecclesia, meaning “called to gather together” was almost exclusively a political word used for the gathering of a city’s citizens, or in the case of decisions on changes in law, a smaller gathering.
Here’s the point – before the time of Christ, ecclesia was never used for religious organizations. Instead, as the Liddell Scott on-line lexicon of ancient Greek words defines it, the ecclesia was a an assembly of the citizens regularly summoned.
And so, as Act 1 of The Importance of Being Catholic closes, it is especially worth noting that an electronic search of the millions of words of ancient Greek writings yield no instance of a catholic ecclesia, a catholic assembly. Did you catch that? It’s important to understand that no one thought or spoke that way back then. The concept didn’t even make sense until Jesus Christ came to call sinners into His Church.
Act 2, Scene 1:
Jesus Christ and the
Capital C Catholic Church
Then came the institution Jesus Christ founded, the “church.” It was brilliant in execution and name. Not only was it something entirely new, something the likes of which the world had never seen, but its name ecclesia clicked with both Jewish and Gentile audiences. There had never been a regularly gathered group of religious people calling themselves, “church,” and amazingly, the name “church” taught its own theological truth – an ecclesia would be a ‘called-out’ people who regularly met to worship the One who called them. It matched the nature and experience of Christianity exactly. With a single word Jew, Gentile, and Christian could understand the Christian church. Brilliant.
When He promised “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Mat. 16:18), He promised a single church that overpowers death itself. This church can’t be located on earth alone, but is a single church comprised of those in heaven, those saved on earth, and those yet to be believe or to be born. This Assembly will gather together for the first time at the moment of Christ’s return:
“Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together
with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,
and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
(1 Thes. 4:17)
This church, often called the Universal Church and usually capitalized (Church), has never yet gathered and so still awaits this destiny. This physical gathering is the bottom line meaning of ecclesia when we are talking about the Universal Church. We await its consummation forevermore.
Changing directions, then, for us to speak of a Universal Church and locate it on earth in the present age is to commit two mistakes. First, there is no (Universal) Church merely on earth, since this Church overcomes death and those in Christ on earth haven’t yet overcome death (Mat. 16:18). Second, all the Christians living on earth never gather together in the present age. They aren’t an ecclesia, an assembly, and if they aren’t in physical assembly with each other, they aren’t yet one church together.
Act 2, Scene 2:
Jesus Christ and the
Lowercase c Catholic Church
But when the Lord speaks of the church that performs the actions of confrontation of sin and expulsion of the impenitent in Mat. 18:17, He speaks of a local church, not the universal:
“And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses
to listen even to the church, let him be to you
as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”
Jesus refers to a single church in which all His redeemed, living in that region, are to obey His words. Here’s why. If there is more than one church of His followers in that region then His words, “let him be to you as a Gentile and tax-gatherer” are meaningless to every other church other than the one which performed the discipline. Since none of the other churches confronted the man’s impenitence, they can’t rightly judge his guilt or impenitence.
In fact, this is what happens. Where multiple churches exist and impenitent men are removed from one church through the Mat. 18 process, the impenitent man typically goes to another church where he is accepted as a brother in Christ – in disobedience to Christ’s words. Thus Jesus presume local catholicism in Mat 18: all the believers in a region holding to His judgments in one church.
Jesus also teaches that this lowercase c catholic church is a decidedly institutional church rather than just a set of Christian relationships. The impenitent man loses his relationship not to people, but to the institution. When Jesus says, “if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector,” He doesn’t mean by these words to end the personal relationships between those in the church and the expelled member. Indeed, the one expelled may be in the same family as those still in the church. Or he may repent later and return. Instead, Jesus refers to expelling the impenitent from the church as an institution. The words “Gentile and tax-gatherer” refer to someone outside God’s covenant, not someone outside the influence and friendship of God’s people.
So as the curtain descends and Act 2 closes, we see that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church and the One who defines its existence as both universal and local, never specifically defined a catholic ecclesia on earth.
He did, however, teach that every church is responsible as an institution to carefully preserve each individual part of the whole, which it does by obeying His command for confrontation and expulsion of the impenitent.
It remains then to Christ’s playwrights, His chosen and holy apostles and prophets to dramatize for us the apostolic meaning of catholic.
Act 3, Scene 1:
The New Testament
The word “catholic” is used once in the New Testament, by the prophet Luke:
“And when they had summoned them, they commanded them
not to speak or teach at all (καθόλου)
in the name of Jesus.”
Like the ancient writers Polybius and Aristotle we encountered briefly in Act 1, Scene 1, Luke’s use of the word catholic (translated as “all”) retains its adjectival meaning of “complete, entire.”
So let’s not miss what is important here. Luke was a deeply studied, highly intelligent 1st Century man. He knew the word catholic, but he never used it to define or describe a Christian church. He could have, but under God’s guidance, he didn’t. For as deeply studied and intelligent as he was Luke didn’t know he was writing the 5th book of the New Testament canon (though he did know he was writing Scripture). The eventual shape of the canon was God’s business, and God knew that Christians would use the word catholic to define their churches for centuries to come, beginning with the affectionately called Apostolic Fathers.
It isn’t that God is ignorant, or a tease. Instead, He has finished speaking now in these last day in His Son, who is the heir of all things.
And in light of the many millions through the centuries who have believed the ‘true church’ is either the (Roman) Catholic Church, or a lineage of (Eastern) Churches calling themselves the more ancient and thus the more catholic Churches, the Christ who sits at the Father’s right hand does not join them. For in what book does the Holy Spirit intentionally inspire the use of the word catholic, but the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4:18)? God uses the word right where we might expect it to support our ecclesiology, in Acts, but instead employs it just as the pagans did and not the Christians to come later would.
So, the stage lights dim as we make a quick set change on stage. Upon turning them back up, we discover: Voilà! We need to replace our historically-driven concepts and words and replace them with the Christ’s own, His very important catholicism on earth.
Act 3, Scene 2:
The NT Patrons
The Bible’s has its own words by which to learn The Importance of Being Catholic. “Catholic church” has at least two patron saints, lexically speaking. They are the phrases, “church of God” and, “whole church.”
The phrase “church of God” is used seven times in the NT. In both 1 Cor. 1:2 and 2 Cor. 1:1, it refers to all the saints in Corinth, and who gather on the Lord’s Day to hear apostolic instruction (1 Cor. 11:1-16) and to partake in an unschismed manner of the Lord’s Table, i.e., as the entire body of Christ in Corinth. See how Paul uses the phrase “church of God” in 1 Cor. 1:2 to designate all the saints living in Corinth, and then uses the phrase to rebuke the schisming happening at the Lord’s Table in 1 Cor. 11:22 (cf. 1 Cor. 11:18). Or consider Acts 20:28, where the elders of the church in Ephesus are to watch over that entire church in order to protect it from schisming or heresy. Perhaps the best examples are where “church of God” = “Jerusalem catholic church” in 1 Cor. 15:9 and Gal. 1:13, since that church is the only one Paul persecuted (Acts 8:1-3, cf. Gal. 1:22).
Then there is, “whole church.” This two-word phrase is the Greek father to the term, “catholic church,” and is found in Acts 5:11, 15:22, Rom. 16:23, and 1 Cor. 14:23.The phrase in the Greek language even sounds like the word, “catholic,” for it shares the 2nd half of catholic, “ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη,” ecclesia holé, (church whole) – holé – drop the “h” and you’ll hear the second syllable of the word catholic.
The first thing to know about this linguistic feature in the New Testament is its geography. In every case, “the whole church” refers to local churches denominated geographically: either Jerusalem or Corinth. The term never once refers to a Universal Church such as all of Christendom or to a world-wide institution such as The Roman Catholic Church. Nor does the use of “whole church” in the canon ever define a connected grouping of churches.
And what is the “whole church” in the NT? The whole church is all the Christians in a particular locale considered as a single worshiping community, or one church that meets together for weekly worship of Jesus Christ. It is the lowercase c local catholic church.
So, to make one quick observation here so this discussion can be concrete for us, among the NT apostles and prophets, “the whole church” was never a collection of separate and distinct groups of Christians in the same city or region, who called their separate groups “churches,” but rather they together comprised the one church in a locale that was “whole, entire, complete,” that is, made up of all the members of the body of Christ in that city or region.
Take Corinth. All the Christians living in Corinth went to the one whole church, that is, the one catholic church in Corinth. Though the individual members were distributed in and around the city, they came together every Lord’s Day as one whole church for one Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16-17, 11:17-18, 14:23, 16:1-2). Jesus Christ was quite clear, was He not, that He did not want the whole church existing as separate churches (1 Cor. 1:10-13)?
Act 3, Scene 3:
The Plot Thickens
So, “whole” and “catholic” have roughly equivalent meanings. From this, it could appear that the first syllable of catholic (κατὰ, kata) offers nothing significant to the meaning of the word “whole.” But in fact the opposite is the case.
The first half of “catholic” comes from a most amazing Greek preposition that strengthens the meaning of “whole” by bringing it a distributive meaning.Robertson taught that the distributive sense is one of two root meanings for κατὰ, the other being “down.” A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 606.
Thus, the first syllable of catholic is extremely important. A “catholic whole” is a tightly joined-together whole of distributed parts. In a catholic church, these tightly joined-together parts are the individual people of Jesus Christ’s earthly body, distributed near to each other (1 Cor. 12:12-27). “Catholic” is the whole of distributed parts.Kata is commonly misunderstood, for example: “According to the whole” is the meaning of the Greek phrase ‘kata holos,’ the origin of the word catholic.” But the kata does not mean “according to,” which carries the idea of measurement, but distribution of a whole, as the word holé requires. “Another web site devoted to making Roman Catholic converts also misunderstands the original meaning of catholic: “…we have yet to define the word catholic. It comes from the Greek katholikos, the combination of two words: kata- concerning, and holos- whole. Thus, concerning the whole.” However, the kata does not here mean “concerning,” which meaning can only be applied with Koinè nouns in the genitival case. Catholic is used accusatively in the ancient writings when used to modify ecclesia.
So the curtain comes down on Act 3. While the NT apostles and prophets leave the stage and are replaced by the next set of actors, what have we learned? Well, first, they never used the word catholic to describe a church. Therefore, its present day caché as an important word in Christendom comes from developments after their deaths.
But it’s not as though the word catholic is unimportant, for secondly, it actually strengthens an important word the NT apostles and prophets did use for church: “whole.” Both belong to the same contextual semantic domain.
The whole church was always a catholic church, until… the Apostolic Fathers, right? Pretty much everybody today thinks that modern catholicism reaches back to the earliest and most important of all church fathers, but they’d be wrong.
So let’s get the Apostolic Fathers positioned on stage to teach us local catholicism. We’ll see they understood The Importance of Being Catholic just fine. Us, on the hand? Well… not so much.
Act 4, Scene 1:
The Apostolic Fathers
The earliest Church Fathers are respectfully called the Apostolic Fathers: Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, the Didache, and the Shepherd of Hermas. They are all the earliest Christian writers who lived at the the end of the 1st Century and at the early part of the 2nd Century.
Together we have almost 64,000 of their written words, most often dealing with the sin of schism. 64,000 words is the length of an average book today, according to Amazon.com.
But, shocker here. A search of the 64,000 Greek words written by the Apostolic Fathers reveals but one occurrence of the word catholic.
Clement of Rome
For example, Clement of Rome never used the word, but did write a letter to the church of Corinth in AD 96 from “the church in Rome.” The fact that he did not identify his church at Rome as catholic implies he did not view it in authority over the church of Corinth, at least, not in a Roman Catholic sense.
Ignatius of Antioch
The single occurrence comes in Ignatius’ letter to the church of Smyrna, who died around AD 108. He allegedly wrote (there is question, but let’s go with it):
“Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the
multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus
Christ is, there is the catholic church”
(ἐκεῖ ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία)”
(8:2)not in the Syriac, hence the scholarly doubt
As such, Ignatius “is the first to use the term ‘catholic’ in the ecclesiastic sense…”Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2:145, cf 2:171 but his catholicism is not the universal church, but instead the Sunday gathering of the multitude of believers in Smyrna.JB lightfoot translates καθολικὴ as “universal.” But how can it be said that the universal church (the elect of the centuries, some dead, some yet born) is where the bishop is? It’s nonsensical. We see it in what he writes next,
“It is not lawful without the overseer either
to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast…”
So, Ignatius was definitely thinking local church, and saying Jesus Christ is wherever the catholic church in Smyrna visibly and physically meets, led by their head-elder, showing the local catholic church in Smyrna is both the multitude of all believers there, and the visible institution). The key word in 8:2 is “wherever,” (ἐκεῖ) as it describes a single meeting place for all.
“Whatever may have been the case with the disputed initial ecclesiological use of the adjective καθολικος by Ignatius of Antioch, the term catholicity acquired very early a geographic meaning (unity in spatial and cultural universality) which was then quickly associated with the notion of correct faith.”Volf, After Our Likeness, 265. He writes in an associated footnote, “The history of how catholicity has been understood is reflected in the history of interpretations of this first use of the adjective by Ignatius. I am inclined to follow André de Halleux, who believes the expression ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία in Smyrn. 8:2 serves to designate the church in its totality. The following conclusion can then be drawn for understanding the catholicity of the church: “the first patristic attestation of the expression ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία has without a doubt nothing to do with the theology of catholicity” (de Helleux, “L’Église,” 24).
Next, notice that the unified church gathers together in one place. This comports exactly with Paul’s doctrine that Jesus Christ is where the whole body gathers (i.e., Eph. 4:15-16, 1 Cor. 12:12). Ignatius writes
“Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God,
and show forth His praise. For when ye assemble frequently
in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed,
and the destruction at which he aims is
prevented by the unity of your faith…”The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, 13:1
For Ignatius, a godly and powerful life in Christ is all about coming together for church, and does so “frequently in the same place””πυκνῶς ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ”, by which he meant the whole church of all the redeemed in a city or region.
“It is clear from Ignatian ecclesiology as a whole that not only does a “universal Church” not exist in Ignatius’ mind but, on the contrary, an identification of the whole Christ and the whole Church with the local episcopal community constitutes a key idea in his thought.”The full quote is this, “Ignatius in his well-known passage in Smryn., 8, where the term appears for the first time in our sources, seems to contrast the local episcopal community with the “catholic Church” in a way that has led many scholars (Zahn, Lightfoot, Bardy, etc.) to identify the latter with the “universal Church.” But there is not a single indication in the text that would suggest this identification. It is clear from Ignatian ecclesiology as a whole that not only does a “universal Church” not exist in Ignatius’ mind but, on the contrary, an identification of the whole Christ and the whole Church with the local episcopal community constitutes a key idea in his thought.” Zizoulas, Being as Communion, 144.
Ignatius follows the apostle Paul’s geographic ecclesiology seen in 1 Cor. 14:23: “When the whole church gathers in the same place…” Ἐὰν οὖν συνέλθῃ ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ” The whole church never gathers in more than place, for if it does, it is two or more churches. And if that happens, how can it be a catholic church, that is, each and every saint Christ has redeemed in that place, functioning as a single institution?
Polycarp of Smyrna
The concept of local catholicism is seen in other ways among the Apostolic Fathers. Polycarp, who died a martyr in 155 AD, never used the word catholic in his only extant writing, the letter to the Philippian church, yet he perfectly understood what a catholic church is. His epistle to the church of Philippi opens with an address to the catholic church in Philippi:
“Polycarp, and the elders with him, to the church
of God which sojourns in Philippi”
(1:1)Πολύκαρπος καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῳ πρεσβύτεροι τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ παροικούσῃ Φιλίππους·
The main point – he wrote to the one church which met together in Philippi, not multiple assemblies. Interestingly, Polycarp did not write anything suggesting the his own church was under a single bishop, but addressed his letter as from a plurality of elders with him, thus matching Paul’s Phil. 1:1 “in Christ Jesus” polity exactly.
Like Ignatius’ letter to the Smyrnans, Polycarp links the church people as participating in a single institution (elders and deacons):
“In like manner also the younger men must be blameless in all
things, caring for purity before everything and curbing
themselves from every evil.
For it is a good thing to refrain from lusts in the world, for every
lust warreth against the Spirit, and neither whoremongers
nor effeminate persons nor defilers of themselves
with men shall inherit the kingdom of God,
neither they that do untoward things.
Wherefore it is right to abstain from all these things,
submitting yourselves to the elders and
deacons as to God and Christ.”
(5:3)”ὑποτασσομένους τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις καὶ διακόνοις ὡς θεῷ καὶ Χριστῷ.”
For Polycarp, the whole church of Philippi is one church, and the only church that shall inherit the kingdom of God. They alone submit to a plurality of elders and deacons in that one church.
The Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas
Neither the Didache nor the Shepherd of Hermas uses the word catholic. And with that, we close the curtain and allow these great Fathers time to move off the stage. Meanwhile, grab a coke outside the auditorium where concessions are sold, and enjoy the first of two intermissions.
Let’s digest what has happened. There is one, and only one, use of “catholic” in all the Apostolic Fathers. So the word wasn’t important to their Christianity, but the concept was, so long as we understand what they taught. You see, some people claim that catholicism started with the Apostolic Fathers, but sorry to be such a critic here.
Those who try to gain your confidence that Roman Catholicism is well-attested in the early history of Christianity are wrong. A quick troll of the internet shows exactly this. One Roman Catholic apologist, citing the one use of catholic in all the Apostolic Fathers, assures his readers,
“So we clearly see that early in the second century
Christians regularly use the word catholic as
an established description of the Church.”
He isn’t alone. One evangelical seminary professor says the same,
“in the earliest appearances of the word “catholic,” it was used to
distinguish the church in its geographical wholeness –
the catholic church throughout the world.”Michael Svigel, Retro-Christianity, 167
Can you imagine five Christians writing a full length book of 64,000 words – that’s the length of all early Apostolic Fathers’ writings – and using an adjective commonly used among non-Christians (i.e., “catholic”) just one time… and then someone 2,000 years later spinning it by telling you, “that one adjective was foundational to their doctrine of the church?”
Well, that’s what the modern catholics of all catholic persuasions claim. Somehow, someway, the Apostolic Fathers set the building blocks for what we now know as Catholicism/catholicism.
OK, finish up your coke and find your way back to your balcony seat. The play must go on, for the play’s the thing.
Act 4, Scene 2:
The curtain lifts and a single spot focuses on the great martyr, Justin (100 – 165 AD). Although not grouped among the five Apostolic Fathers, he lived in the 2nd Century and is known for his apologetic works. He was among the most prolific of the earliest church fathers.
Justin left us with a remarkable 120,000 words which are preserved for us in translation. In what amounts to two full length books’ worth of material, he used catholic only once.
That occurrence is “the catholic faith.” So in spite of the fact that his works were all apologetic, he never once used catholic to describe catholic churches. Adding him into the mix so far, the word catholic has been used just once to explain church in almost 200,000 words.
But Justin taught local catholicism, just like the rest:
“On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits… Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly.”
(Justin Martyr, Apology, 1:67).
Act 4, Scene 3:
Then there is Irenaeus, who died in 202. Like Justin he is not among the Apostolic Fathers, but is eminent in his own right. He wrote over 223,000 extant words, but used catholic in them only four times. Our count now stands at five uses in over 400,000 words, or .00001%. Should we wonder what exactly was the Importance of Being Catholic to the early Christians?
Like those before him, Irenaeus did not deem the term catholic church as any value in his apologetic efforts against the heretical movement of Gnosticism threatening the churches of his day, for it does not occur in his massive Against Heresies. But caution here, for the translation of his Against Heresies, 1:10:3 usually includes “Catholic”:
“while the Catholic Church possesses one and the
same faith throughout the whole world…”
But Irenaeus doesn’t use the word “catholic” in his Greek!It’s “τῆς οὔσης ἐκκλησίας πάσης μίαν.” See here (p. 97, right hand page, middle). Special pleading is just as obvious in the translation, “to ‘all the dioceses of the Holy Catholic church in every place.” Instead, Irenaeus’ four uses of catholic church are only observed from his small, 1,500 word Martyrdom of Polycarp where they evidence the same local catholicism as the Apostolic Fathers, that is, that of the “whole church” in a single locale.But Irenaeus, following the apostles, did use the phrase “whole church” in Against Heresies, 3:12:5, and 3:12:14 as referring only to the church in Jerusalem.
However, Irenaeus did use the concept of a universal church growing out of Jerusalem several times in his First Book in Against Heresies. He just didn’t use the word catholic to describe it, in keeping with all we’ve seen thus far.
“As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world” (1:10:2).
Instead, Irenaeus’ four uses of catholic church explains local catholicism.
First Use: The Martyrdom of Polycarp opens this way:
“The church of God which is sojourning in Smyrna to the church of
God which is sojourning in Philomelium and to every holy and
catholic church which sojourns in every place; mercy
and peace and love from God the Father and
our Lord Jesus Christ be multiplied.”
(1:1)Ἡ ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ ἡ παροικοῦσα Σμύρναν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ παροικούσῃ ἐν Φιλομηλίῳ καὶ πάσιας ταῖς κατὰ πάντα τόπον τῆς ἁγίας καὶ καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας παροικίαις· ἔλεος, εἰρήνη καὶ ἀγάπη θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησου Χριστοῦ πληθυνθείη.
Since Irenaeus describes the catholic church as that which “sojourns in every place,” he is not referring to a single universal church, but instead to distinct local churches “which sojourn in every place.” And indeed, commentators on Irenaeus agree that the phrase, “holy and catholic church sojourning in every place” refers to other churches in the same region as Smyrna and Philomelium.
But instead of calling them all one church – which would have been less effort to write – Irenaeus describes the catholic church as that “which sojourns in every place.” Thus, as both Smyrnan and Philomelium churches sojourn, so does the catholic church sojourn: in every place. It is not one church that sojourns “in every place” but rather various catholic churches distributed “in every place.”
Second Use: In 8:1 Irenaeus records for us Polycarp’s prayer for,
“all the catholic church distributed across the inhabited earth.” πάσης τῆς κατὰ τὴν οἰκουμένην καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας
Irenaeus words here should be read in light of his other uses of catholic in the letter – local churches that contain all the Christians living in a region. True, Irenaeus groups the churches into one church linguistically, but he uses the Greek preposition of distribution (κατὰ, kata). This proposition intensifies and defines the word catholic (kata + holos) since it duplicates its first syllable. The catholic does not suggests a single ecclesia throughout the world but that never meets together.
Instead, for Irenaeus, ‘catholicism’ is something real, something concrete. Throughout the inhabited earth (οἰκουμένη, the inhabited earth), there is a catholic ecclesia, that is, a whole assembly. Since there were hundreds of catholic churches existing in the world, Polycarp grouped them as one in his prayer, while yet affirming each in their geographic distribution throughout the (known) inhabited earth.
“In the Martyrium Polycarpi the expression ἡ κατὰ τὴν οἰκουμένην καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία has led scholars to similar conclusions [i.e., universalistic] in a way which seems to overlook the fact that, if one translated καθολικὴ by “universal” in this text one would be confronted with an impossible tautology which would read something like: “The universal Church which is in the universe”! That in this document there is no such contrast between “local” and “universal” is shown by the fact that it speaks of Polycarp as being the bishop “of the catholic Church which is in Smyrna” (16, 2) precisely because the local Church is the “dwelling place” (παροικία) of the whole Church.”Zizoulas, Being as Communion, 144.
Third Use: The local sense is verified when toward the end of his account he again uses the word catholic with the local same sense it had at the beginning. He calls Polycarp,
“… an overseer of the in-Smyrna catholic church” 16:2ἐπίσκοπος τῆς ἐν Σμύνῃ καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας
Again, this refers to each true Christian, in Smyrna, being a part of that one church of which Polycarp was a presbyter. Members of any other church in Smyrna, be they merely schismatic or heretical, were not to be regarded as truly Christian.
Fourth Use: Ireneaeus’ final use of catholic appears at the end of this letter. He writes of,
“the catholic church distributed throughout the inhabited earth” (19:2).τῆς κατὰ τὴν οἰκουμένην καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας.
A proper interpretation of the Greek preposition kata understands its root meaning as one of distribution. There were separate and distinct catholic churches, one in faith and one in the Lord, distributed throughout the inhabited world. He was not referring to a hierarchical or connected institutional organization, for none existed.
As we drop the curtain on Act 4 and allow all these most ancient church fathers to exit our stage, what have we seen? That in the world of religion, evidence doesn’t count for much. There are an awful lot of people who imagine their vision of a catholic church is founded on early church history, but it isn’t. Surprise, surprise. It’s all speculation, as one Orthodox theologian claims, “…the early Church use of ‘catholic Church’ was reserved for the manifestation of the pre-eternal Church in space and time” (p. 61). Really? Platonism, much?
Which leads us to another intermission break and another coke so we can make a larger point and a personal application.
Irenaeus equates the catholic church “in every place” with the the two churches of Smyrna and Philomelium: they too sojourn, in their own place. Thus, Irenaeus’ catholicism makes the body of Christ concrete, that is, tangible and real. You could go to it and be with it, all of it. Tertullian, writing in the 3rd century, refers only to the catholic churches, never the Catholic Church that spans geographic distance.Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 26
Here’s some application. Wouldn’t you love to know all who are going to heaven where you live? If you did, you could more fully rejoice in those whom God gives the gift of eternal life (Acts 13:48). Then you could fully obey Christ’s command to “love one another” and you could forge a visible, concrete unity with them in one church. No more church hopping and shopping. If you are a regenerate man or women, your heart yearns for this.
Indeed, your experience of church unity in this age is meant to mirror and represent your experience of Church unity in the next. The catholic church of this age is meant to represent the Catholic church of the next.
And we saw that Irenaeus knew that all the genuine Christians in those cities he mentioned met in one church. He saluted all, not just some, of the Christians “in every place.” When he greets the church in Philomelium, he greets all of the Christians of that region who meet together in only one ecclesia. Or to put it a different way, Irenaeus does not recognize multiple churches in Philomelium, or multiple churches in any place. Philomelium, Smyrna, and every catholic church, is one ecclesia in every place.
What’s the difference? Irenaeus lived in a day when schism was identified and rejected. You and I live in an age where schism is celebrated and defended. So much so, we think it normal not to worship with all those “in Christ” where we live.
But only when all the truly regenerate Christians who live near each other meet together for Sunday worship can a local church concretely represent the Universal Church. That Universal Church is the Church that all the regenerate Christians of all time forever meet in and worship together (1 Thes. 4:16-17). The catholic church Irenaeus wrote of was a local body, of all the city’s Christians, who because they were all the Christians, concretely represented the universal body of Christ.
So, when did it come to pass that everyone began to believe in the importance of being catholic, as we see it expressed today? It’s time to raise the curtain on our final act.
Act 5, Scene 1:
Cyril of Jerusalem
It wasn’t until Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386) wrote that the word catholic really began to take on the pan-geographic sense it has today. For the first three hundred years of history the churches only knew local catholicism, or at least defended it (hello, Cyprian?!).
“Immediately after the third century, Cyril of Jerusalem gives the first synthetic definition of the catholicity of the Church, in which the concept of universality forms merely a part of the meaning of the term “Catholic Church”: “She is called catholic because she extends throughout all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because she teaches universally (katholikos) and completely all the doctrines that should come to men’s knowledge… and because she brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind… and because she universally treats and heals the whole species of sins… and possesses in herself every form of virtue which is named…”
(Catechetical Orations 18.23, PG 33:1044). “quoted from Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church, 171
When Cyril warned his readers to avoid 3rd Century heretical churches, he preached,
“…ever abide with the holy church catholic in which you were
regenerated. And if ever you are 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….”Catechetical Lecture 18
Yet even at this point even Cyril emphasizes the local catholic over the world-wide catholic, as he exhorts his readers to abide in a particular church where one came to faith – and not to go to another church which doesn’t identify itself as catholic.
At the same time he writes to people who live in different regions and collects them under one term, “the holy catholic church.” Here is the seed form of modern catholicism.
Act 5, Scene 2:
The Full Acceptance of Catholic as Universal
In the year 380 the Roman Emperor outlawed all churches that were not identified as “catholic” and soon thereafter Augustine provided an apologetic for a Church Universal. Part of his apologetic includes a succession of priests and a hierarchy he claimed was derived from the Apostle Peter.
Thus, over the course of two hundred years, from Irenaeus to Augustine, the word catholic slipped away from the idea of a “whole church,” that is, the collection of all the saints in a single locale, to a universal collection of all Christians, more or less expected to be unified under ever-expanding hierarchies. By the year 600AD statements like this were common:
“We may also not inappropriately interpret the ‘pillars of heaven’ the Churches themselves, which being many in number, constitute one Catholic Church spread over the whole face of the earth. Hence too the Apostle John writes to the seven Churches, meaning to denote the one Catholic Church replenished with the Spirit of sevenfold grace…”Gregory the Great, Moral Discourses on Job, 17:43.
Everything, even texts like Revelation which explicitly do not teach a church spread over the ‘whole face of the earth,’ were marshaled to serve the new ecclesiastical narrative, It wasn’t any one person’s fault, per se. Along the way two challenges to local catholicism, Novatianism and Donatism, advanced this hierarchical trend, as did the unifying impetus of Emperor Constantine and the universal threat of Arianism. It just seemed the right way to go to stave off schism. Universalism was the guarantee of orthodoxy, as that which “had been believed everywhere, always, by all” meant heretics could be identified and heresy more quickly exposed.”This definition of orthodox Catholic tradition was the work of Vincent of Lérins, writing under the pseudonym Peregrinus. The immediate purpose of his treatise appears to have been to attack the predestinarianism of Augustine and his supporters for being an innovation and a deviation from the tradition of orthodoxy.” Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, 333.
Act 5, Scene 3:
The Vital Importance of Being Catholic.
The final line of the play The Importance of Being Earnest cleverly ties together the play’s several plot lines with a humorous flourish. The protagonist says, “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life, the vital importance of being Earnest.”
The audience laughs, the curtain drops, and the patrons go home.
But in the real world The Importance of Being Catholic is vital because it teaches all professing Christians what the body of Christ is, in the here and now. It is not a hierarchical structure under bishops, for that is not an ecclesia. That is a religious institution that never meets, thereby foregoing the most basic condition of the importance of being catholic; that is, meeting together for the worship of Jesus Christ on the Lord’s Day. When that meeting includes all the regenerate in a city or region, then that, and that alone, is a catholic church.
Being locally catholic means recognizing each person who has been called by Christ into a saving relationship to be a part of the local body of Christ. Each is baptized by Christ into a local body through His Holy Spirit, and each has a vital role in the functioning of that local body (1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:12-16). It is this local body of Christ, produced by Christ and not man, that is comprised of each and every person indwelt by the Holy Spirit, living locally. Or as Irenaeus puts it in his letter to the catholic church in Smyrna, ““Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church” (8:2). He does not say, “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the bishop,” but “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”
Irenaeus got the body of Christ metaphor.
Act 5, Scene 4:
One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church
The Nicene Creed – not in the 325 AD original, but in the 381 AD supplemented version – contains the strophe: “in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” It wasn’t original and didn’t get included until the word catholic took on an altogether different meaning than it had the first three centuries of the early churches.
But why take my word for it?
Before Ignatius died (117 AD) he wrote to the “holy church in Tralles, Asia,”it is only one church: ἐκκλησίᾳ ἁγίᾳ τῇ οὔσῃ ἐν Τράλλεσιν τῆς Ἀσίας, (1:1) and says all in it are to reverence the deacons, the overseer and the presbyters “who are as the assembly of the apostles,” for apart from “these no church is called.” χωρὶς τούτων ἐκκλησία οὐ καλεῖται, (3:1) Since he specifies the offices of the local church as denoting the only church there is, even as Paul does in Phil. 1:1, Ignatius would not recognize a hierarchy of bishops and call it a church. For him, the only church was a local gathering with properly appointed elders in leadership.
“I will recall a historical fact: in the apostolic age, and throughout the second and third centuries, every local church was autonomous and independent-autonomous, for it contained in itself every thing necessary to its life; and independent, because it did not depend on any other local church or any bishop whatever outside itself.”
Finale and Denouement
Is there an importance to being catholic? Absolutely, as long as we don’t play-act it, but truly are earnest about it.
To the earliest fathers the catholic church was the local body of Christ, that is, each genuinely saved person in a region who gathered together with every other truly saved person for worship Sunday after Sunday, without schism or heresy. Those who left and formed their own churches, or came in and planted their own churches, were either schismatic or heretics, for they tore at the body of Jesus Christ in every place.
Therefore, the word catholic originally referred to the members, distributed throughout the local area (kata), but who are one whole (holé):
“During the first three centuries at least, the term “catholic Church” was applied almost exclusively to the local church… It was probably only in the fourth century and out of the struggle of such theologians as Optatus of Milevis (Adv. farm., 2, l) and Augustine (Ep., XCIII, 23; De Unit., 6, 16, etc.) against the provincialism of the Donatists that the term “catholic” came to be identified with “universal.” During the same century in the East catholicity receives a synthetic definition, in which “universality” is one of the elements that constitute catholicity-(See Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech., 18, 23, PG 33:1044.).”Zizoulas, Being as Communion, 143-44.
As Ignatius wrote, “to the holy Church which is at Tralles, in Asia, beloved of God, the Father of Jesus Christ, elect, and worthy of God” (Trallians, 1:1). As long as the elect of God do not meet together for worship and the sharing of spiritual gifts while living in the same proximity, the sin of schism exists.
Such a simple understanding, and one that perfectly lines up with the NT apostles and prophets of Jesus Christ.
“Only from the third century on was ‘catholic’ used in a polemical
sense to refer to those who were ‘orthodox’ Christians as
opposed to schismatics and heretics.”D.A. Carson, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “The Church,” 232
But what do we have today? Everybody who worships in schism is a self-proclaimed catholic, for it plays well now, before the coming judgment. But compare the following definitions for being catholic with the NT catholicism we actually shall be judged by:
Roman Catholic: “If a group isn’t in communion with the pope, it isn’t part of the Catholic Church.”
Eastern Orthodox: Orthodox institutions believe themselves to be the original catholics through a succession of bishops, something akin to an “Eastern Orthodox Catholic Synod of Bishops.” “The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches both claim to be the original New Testament Church in organic apostolic continuity with the same.”
Lutheran: “This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic” (Augsburg Confession, 21:5).
“If being Catholic means that we have an objective, identifiable, external foundation for our teaching and being Protestant means that we have a personal and heartfelt assurance of salvation [then] confessional Lutherans have what Catholics and Protestants are looking for. What is clearer or more concretely definable that the teaching of law, gospel, prayer, and the means of grace found in Luther’s Small Catechism?”
Anglican: “We are Catholic because we believe and practice the universal or catholic faith of the church.”
“… nearly 2000 Anglican bishops, clergy, and lay people made a pledge… to continue in the Catholic Faith, Apostolic Order, Orthodox Worship and Evangelical Witness of the traditional Anglican Church…”
Reformed: “II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children; and is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ; the house and family of God, through which men are ordinarily saved and union with which is essential to their best growth and service.” (Westminster Confession, 25, 2)
Evangelical (Free Church): Evangelical theologians can seem almost agnostic at times on the doctrine of the church. Two major theologians show this tendency. Bloesch’s two volume, “Essentials of Evangelical Theology” has no section (or even chapter) devoted to the doctrine of the church. Likewise Carl F. H. Henry’s six volume, “God, Revelation, and Authority,” the flagship theology of Evangelicalism to date, has no section on ecclesiology. The neglect of ecclesiology is not merely the neglect of one part of Christian theology, but a neglect of something much deeper. A shallow, or worse, non-existent ecclesiology may reveal an inability to apply Christology, Bibliology, soteriology, and Pneumatology to God’s people.
Who is catholic, then? Cutting through the opinion, self-serving dogma and presumptive re-creations of early church history, we turn to the Bible. For almost 20 centuries it has authoritatively taught catholicism in both precept and example – just not in that word. Which leads us back to where we began. What is The Importance of Being Catholic? Nothing, when our definition of being catholic disagrees with the Apostles.
But Jesus Christ has a body where you live, every single blessed one of whom you should want to know, love, and serve to the uttermost of your powers for His name’s sake. This is a local catholicism that reverses schism, in which all the truly regenerate living in the same area worship Jesus Christ together every Sunday, and are collectively submitted under the same elder-qualified men, as the apostle Paul commanded in Titus 1:5.
Here then is The Importance of Being Catholic:
- Local catholic unity where you live glorifies the uniting work of Christ on the cross (Eph. 2:11-3:5, Romans 15:5-12);
- Local catholic unity where you lives teaches you must first love the local body of Christ concretely before you can love the universal church theoretically (Eph. 3:21-4:4);
- Local catholic unity is necessary to display that you understand a true gospel witness, for apart from visible unity, the world cannot “believe that You sent Me,” nor can they “know that You sent Me (John 17:21-23);
- Local catholic unity where you live is your responsibility to maintain, and thus is part of a believer’s obedience to Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:3-6);
- Local catholic unity matures the local body as the gifts given to the “whole body” knit together each part (Eph. 4:7-16);
- Local catholic unity exposes that all who refuse to submit to the only offices in the local catholic church ordained by Christ – elders and deacons – are schismatics and heretics (Rom. 16:16-19, Phil. 1:1, 3:17-19, 1 Tim. 3:1-16).
Not until we submit to the NT teachings on the “whole church,” which are clearly and convincingly expressed in both precept and example, will we repent and embrace the catholicism of the Apostles.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||For those of you who read Greek I’ll include those appropriate phrases and clauses in the footnotes. Here in Polycarp’s Martrydom it is “ἐπίσκοπος τῆς ἐν Σμύνῃ καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας – “the bishop of the in-Smyrna catholic church.”|
|2.||↑||”My intended application of ‘catholic’ employs the term first used by Ignatius himself in reference to ‘a general sense of a common unity among local churches centered on proper faith in Jesus…” Michael Svigel, The Center and the Source, 49.|
|3.||↑||καθόλου, Polybius, Histories, 1:4:2|
|4.||↑||καθόλου,” Aristot. Met. 1.981a).|
|5.||↑||”The Aristotilian use of the term καθόλου [catholic] as contrasted with the κατὰ µέρος [part by part] or καθ᾽ ἕκαστον [each by each] survived at the time of the primitive Church mainly under the form of the adjective καθολικὸς,”John Zizoulas, Being as Communion, 143, bracketed segments mine. In other words, the two parts when combined in one word (catholic) mean whole by whole.|
|6.||↑||The phrase in the Greek language even sounds like the word, “catholic,” for it shares the 2nd half of catholic, “ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη,” ecclesia holé, (church whole) – holé – drop the “h” and you’ll hear the second syllable of the word catholic.|
|7.||↑||Robertson taught that the distributive sense is one of two root meanings for κατὰ, the other being “down.” A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 606.|
|8.||↑||Kata is commonly misunderstood, for example: “According to the whole” is the meaning of the Greek phrase ‘kata holos,’ the origin of the word catholic.” But the kata does not mean “according to,” which carries the idea of measurement, but distribution of a whole, as the word holé requires. “Another web site devoted to making Roman Catholic converts also misunderstands the original meaning of catholic: “…we have yet to define the word catholic. It comes from the Greek katholikos, the combination of two words: kata- concerning, and holos- whole. Thus, concerning the whole.” However, the kata does not here mean “concerning,” which meaning can only be applied with Koinè nouns in the genitival case. Catholic is used accusatively in the ancient writings when used to modify ecclesia.|
|9.||↑||not in the Syriac, hence the scholarly doubt|
|10.||↑||Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2:145, cf 2:171|
|11.||↑||JB lightfoot translates καθολικὴ as “universal.” But how can it be said that the universal church (the elect of the centuries, some dead, some yet born) is where the bishop is? It’s nonsensical.|
|12.||↑||Volf, After Our Likeness, 265. He writes in an associated footnote, “The history of how catholicity has been understood is reflected in the history of interpretations of this first use of the adjective by Ignatius. I am inclined to follow André de Halleux, who believes the expression ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία in Smyrn. 8:2 serves to designate the church in its totality. The following conclusion can then be drawn for understanding the catholicity of the church: “the first patristic attestation of the expression ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία has without a doubt nothing to do with the theology of catholicity” (de Helleux, “L’Église,” 24).|
|13.||↑||The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, 13:1|
|14.||↑||”πυκνῶς ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ”|
|15.||↑||The full quote is this, “Ignatius in his well-known passage in Smryn., 8, where the term appears for the first time in our sources, seems to contrast the local episcopal community with the “catholic Church” in a way that has led many scholars (Zahn, Lightfoot, Bardy, etc.) to identify the latter with the “universal Church.” But there is not a single indication in the text that would suggest this identification. It is clear from Ignatian ecclesiology as a whole that not only does a “universal Church” not exist in Ignatius’ mind but, on the contrary, an identification of the whole Christ and the whole Church with the local episcopal community constitutes a key idea in his thought.” Zizoulas, Being as Communion, 144.|
|16.||↑||Ἐὰν οὖν συνέλθῃ ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ”|
|17.||↑||Πολύκαρπος καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῳ πρεσβύτεροι τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ παροικούσῃ Φιλίππους·|
|18.||↑||”ὑποτασσομένους τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις καὶ διακόνοις ὡς θεῷ καὶ Χριστῷ.”|
|19.||↑||Michael Svigel, Retro-Christianity, 167|
|20.||↑||It’s “τῆς οὔσης ἐκκλησίας πάσης μίαν.” See here (p. 97, right hand page, middle). Special pleading is just as obvious in the translation, “to ‘all the dioceses of the Holy Catholic church in every place.”|
|21.||↑||But Irenaeus, following the apostles, did use the phrase “whole church” in Against Heresies, 3:12:5, and 3:12:14 as referring only to the church in Jerusalem.|
|22.||↑||Ἡ ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ ἡ παροικοῦσα Σμύρναν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ παροικούσῃ ἐν Φιλομηλίῳ καὶ πάσιας ταῖς κατὰ πάντα τόπον τῆς ἁγίας καὶ καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας παροικίαις· ἔλεος, εἰρήνη καὶ ἀγάπη θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησου Χριστοῦ πληθυνθείη.|
|23.||↑||πάσης τῆς κατὰ τὴν οἰκουμένην καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας|
|24.||↑||Zizoulas, Being as Communion, 144.|
|25.||↑||ἐπίσκοπος τῆς ἐν Σμύνῃ καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας|
|26.||↑||τῆς κατὰ τὴν οἰκουμένην καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας.|
|27.||↑||Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 26|
|28.||↑||quoted from Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church, 171|
|29.||↑||Catechetical Lecture 18|
|30.||↑||Gregory the Great, Moral Discourses on Job, 17:43.|
|31.||↑||”This definition of orthodox Catholic tradition was the work of Vincent of Lérins, writing under the pseudonym Peregrinus. The immediate purpose of his treatise appears to have been to attack the predestinarianism of Augustine and his supporters for being an innovation and a deviation from the tradition of orthodoxy.” Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, 333.|
|32.||↑||it is only one church: ἐκκλησίᾳ ἁγίᾳ τῇ οὔσῃ ἐν Τράλλεσιν τῆς Ἀσίας, (1:1)|
|33.||↑||χωρὶς τούτων ἐκκλησία οὐ καλεῖται, (3:1)|
|34.||↑||Zizoulas, Being as Communion, 143-44.|
|35.||↑||D.A. Carson, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “The Church,” 232|