Friday, March 23, 2007

Catholic - Upper or Lower Case C?

My position is that the C was capital to begin with. IE - it was never used as an adjective but as a proper noun. Here's why I think that:

The first time the word was used (that we know of) was in St. Ignatius' letter to the Church at Smyrna. I recently wrote a 5 part series on St. Ignatius (107AD) in which I demonstrated these major points (considering all of his writings as a whole):

1. He wrote to an audience which he assumed had full familiarity of a priest - deacon system under the authority of one bishop, just like the Catholic & Orthodox Churches both still have. (He wasnt writing apologetics, he wrote as if it was already accepted and in place)

Perhaps the most pertinent quote to this discussion:

"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."
2. St. Ignatius did NOT affirm the papacy (but neither did he deny it)

3. He stressed unity under one altar and one Church (the Catholic Church)

4. He stressed repeatedly the absolute necessity for obedience to the bishop.

5. He unequivocally believed in the Real Presence just as taught by Catholic & Orthodox traditions.

6. Tying 1,3,4 & 5 together, he demonstrated a mindset of :

Obedience = Unity = Christ (Real Presence)
Disobedience = Schism = Poison (Heresy)

And laid the theological framework from which all subsequent (orthodox) Church Fathers would more or less follow.

This mindset is: there is ONE true Church (the Catholic Church) and many false ones (Arians, Gnostics, Marcions, Cathars...) Those were the schisms and heretics of the time (all those were after St. Ignatius of course)

But it is clear, the term "Catholic" was not a term used to describe the 'universality' of the Church (as if anyone were wondering 'is the Church local or universal?') but rather, it was certainly referring to a specific, visible entity.

I believe when reading any Church father, it is imperative to understand the dichotomy presented here. Thinking in 21st century American terms of "the Church is just all true believers with Jesus in their heart regardless of denomination" is very anachronistic here.

It is imperative in this discussion to start, therefore, from the earliest writings available.

Sometime ago I responded to an anti-Christian new testament scholar at a university. She wrote that the early Church "did not think in modern terms of orthodoxy/heresy" which is more or less what the "catholic with a lower case c" argument amounts to. But she is badly mistaken, they certainly DID think and write in those terms. In fact, that was the central driving force of nearly every early Church writing! (And Im sure you will agree with me there)

My point is that by trying to deny something which is inconvenient for a person's world view (in her case the notion that the early Christians were honest - accurate historians and in Protestants' case the notion that the early Christians were Catholic) certain historical facts are being systematically misinterpreted.

There are inconvenient facts for Catholicism in history as well. It's inconvenient for us that St. Ignatius didn't write anything about the Roman bishop. He didnt even mention him! Not even in his letter to Rome! Thats very inconvenient for us, but its historical fact.

Same with the word Catholic. They wrote to distinguish the one true Church from all others.

Today, we still use the word "Catholic" to distinguish us from all other groups that have broken off from us - Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican etc... It is used in EXACTLY the same manner as the early Church used it.

If there were no other Christian groups, we would stop using the term 'Catholic' as there would be no need.

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