Catholic (καθολικός [κατά and ὅλος], general, universal), a title given to the Christian Church on account of its being not confined (like the Jewish) to one people, but embracing members out of every nation. "As 'the Church' is (in one of its senses) employed to signify all Christians, who are 'members one of another,' and who compose the body of which Christ is the head, so the title 'catholic,' or 'universal' is a necessary indication of the use of the word 'church' in that sense. The Catholic Church comprehends the entire body of true Christians; but it is no one community on earth — it has no one visible ruler or governor. Any individual church may be included in it, but cannot with propriety be called the Catholic Church" (Eden, s.v.).
1. In the primitive Church, the title "catholic" came into use at an early period to distinguish the Christian Church from the Jewish, which was national, while the Christian body was to include all mankind. At a later period it was used to distinguish those who adopted the so-called "heresies," within the Christian Church, from the body of believers who held the true faith, and to whom alone, and to whose belief, the term "catholic" was applied. The earliest uses of the word (e.g. of Polycarp [† 166], in an epistle p eserved in Eusebius, H. E. 4:15; Clemens Alex. [† 220], S!romata, vii) are in the sense of the general diffusion of the Church. It is used in the Apostles' Creed (third century), and after the adoption of the Nicene Creed it became a common title of the Church (see Pearson, On the Creed, art. 9, note 100). Chillingworth interprets the "Holy Catholic Church" in the Creed to mean "the right that the Church of Christ, or rather, to speak properly, the Gospel of Christ, hath to be universally believed. And therefore the article may be true, though there were no Christian Church in the world" (Chillingworth, Works, fol. p. 196). Pacianus (A.D. 372), in answer to Sempronian the Novatian, who demanded of him why Christians called themselves Catholics, replied, "Christian is my name, and Catholic my surname; the one is my title, the other my character or mark of distinction" (cited by Bin ham). Clarke (Sermons [vol. 4, ed. 1730] on the Catholic Church) gives the following meanings of the word: "The first and largest sense of the term Catholic Church is that which appears to be the most obvious and literal meaning of the words in the text (Heb 12:23), 'The general assembly and church of the firstborn which are written in heaven;' that is, the whole number of those who shall finally attain unto salvation. Secondly, The Catholic or Universal Church signifies, in the next place, and indeed more frequently, the Christian Church only — the Christian Church, as distinguished from that of the Jews and patriarchs of old; the Church of Christ spread universally from our Savior's days over all the world, in contradistinction to the Jewish Church, which was particularly confined to one nation or people. Thirdly, The Catholic Church signifies very frequently, in a still more particular and restrained sense, that part of the Universal Church of Christ which in the present age is now living upon earth, as distinguished from those which have been before and shall come after. Fourthly and lastly, The term Catholic Church signifies, in the last place, and most frequently of all, that part of the Universal Church of Christ which in the present generation is visible upon earth, in an outward profession of the belief of the gospels, and in a visible external communion of the Word and sacraments." Pearson (E.position of the Apostles' Creed, art. 9) explains the catholicity of the Church as consisting, generally, in "universality, as embracing all sorts of persons, as to be disseminated through all nations, as comprehending all ages, as containing all necessary and saving truths, as obliging all men to all kinds of obedience, as curing all diseases, and planting all graces in the souls of men."
2. The Roman Church arrogantly claims the name Catholic as exclusively her own, and designates all who do not belong to her communion as heretics and schismatics. It is bad enough in the Church of Rome to make this claim of the title "Catholic;" it is still worse for Protestants to concede it. The result of this concession, in most Protestant countries, is that common people have really no conception of the true use of the word Catholic. The words "Papist," "Papal," "Romanist," are all properly applicable to the Church of Rome, and imply no offensive meaning, as they are all legitimately derived. At all events, the word "Roman" should always be prefixed to "Catholic," if the latter term be used as part of the title of the Church of Rome. "There is a strange enchantment in words, which, being (although with no great color of reason) assumed, do work on the fancies of men, especially of the weaker sort. Of these power doth ever arrogate to itself such as are most operative, by their force sustaining and extending itself. So divers prevalent factions did assume to themselves the name of Catholic, and the Roman Church particularly hath appropriated that word to itself, even so as to commit a bull, implying Rome and the universe to be the same place; and the perpetual canting of this term hath been one of the most effectual charms to weak people. 'I am a Catholic, that is, a universal; therefore all I hold is true:' this is their great argument" (Barrow, On the Pope's Supremacy; Works, N. Y. ed. in, 201). The Church of which Rome was so long the center is not Catholic, but Latin; just as the Church of which Constantinople was the center is not Catholic, but Greek. "There is, indeed, a Catholic or Universal Church, and therefore a universal Christianity. But to assert that the unity implied in the conjunction of these terms is, and must be, a visible unity, is, in a word, to give the lie to all Church history, both Greek and Latin, from a date almost immediately sequent on the apostolic age. And neither Greek, nor Latin, nor Teutonic Christianity, nor all of them together, can be Catholic Christianity, any more than a part of anything can be equal to the whole" (Lond. Quarterly Review, April, 1855, p. 150).
Bishop Bilson, in his True Difference between Christian Subjection and Unchristian Rebellion (1585), sums up the reasons for denying catholicity as a note of the Roman Church as follows (in dialogue form): "Philander (Romanist): What one point of our religion is not catholic? Theophilus (Anglican): No one point of that which this realm hath refused is truly catholic. Your having and adoring of images in the church; your public service in a tongue not understood of the people; your gazing on the priest while he alone eateth and drinketh at the Lord's table; your barring the people from the Lord's cup; your sacrificing the Son of God to his Father for the sins of the world; your adoring the elements of bread and wine with Divine honor instead of Christ; your seven sacraments; your shrift; your releasing souls out of purgatory by prayers and pardons; your compelling priests to live single; your meritorious vowing and performing pilgrimages; your invocation of saints departed; your rules of perfection for monks and friars; your relying on the Pope as head of the Church, and vicar-general unto Christ — these, with infinite other superstitions in action and errors in doctrine, we deny to have any foundation in the Scriptures, or confirmation in the general consent or use of the Catholic Church." In fact, for Protestants to concede to Romanists the title "Catholics" is equivalent to acknowledging themselves heretics. "This concession may be harmless. and innocent enough as far as Protestants are concerned, but it is most pernicious to those to whom the title is conceded. Men at all times have an inclination to trust in names and privileges, and nothing has proved, or will prove, a greater obstacle to progress in Christian truth than this feeling of being possessed of exclusive privileges — of being exclusively Catholics, i.e. members of the Catholic Church — of that holy community that must secure a special share of divine favor to every member of it." — Bingham, Orig. Eccles. bk. 1, ch. 1, § 7; Suicer, Thesaurus Ecclesiastes s.v. καθολικός; Eden, Clzurchman's Dictionary, s.v.; Elliott, Delineations of Romanism, bk. 3, ch. 2, § 7; Bellarmine's Notes of the Church confuted (Lond. 1687, 4to, pp. 2934); Litton, The Church of Christ, bk. 2, pt. 2, Introduction; Palmer, On the Church; pt. 1, ch. 11, § 3. SEE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.