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The word “Catholic” Print E-mail
By Catholic Encyclopedia   
Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The word Catholic (katholikos from katholou — throughout the whole, i.e., universal) occurs in the Greek classics, e.g., in Aristotle and Polybius, and was freely used by the earlier Christian writers in what we may call its primitive and non-ecclesiastical sense. Thus we meet such phrases as the “the catholic resurrection” (Justin Martyr), “the catholic goodness of God” (Tertullian), “the four catholic winds” (Irenaeus), where we should now speak of “the general resurrection”, “the absolute or universal goodness of God”, “the four principal winds”, etc. The word seems in this usage to be opposed to merikos (partial) or idios (particular), and one familiar example of this conception still survives in the ancient phrase “Catholic Epistles” as applied to those of St. Peter, St. Jude, etc., which were so called as being addressed not to particular local communities, but to the Church at large.

The combination “the Catholic Church” (he katholike ekklesia) is found for the first time in the letter of St. Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, written about the year 110. The words run: “Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal [katholike] Church.”

 

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