Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Term "Catholic Church" in Secular Usage

Last year, I argued that the word "Catholic" has always been used as a proper noun - not an adjective. To supplement that argument, let's look at the following imperial decree under Constantine & Licinius:
Wherefore it is our will that when you receive this letter, if any such things belonged to the Catholic Church of the Christians, in any city or other place, but are now held by citizens or by any others, you shall cause them to be restored immediately to the said churches. For we have already determined that those things which these same churches formerly possessed shall be restored to them. - Eusebius Church History 10.5.16
Now the reformers may have envisioned an invisible Church when the fathers spoke of the "Catholic Church" and they may have envisioned an adjectival usage for "Catholic" (universal) but the Roman empire clearly didn't.

Secular law has no interest in theology so it doesn't care whether the Church is "visible" or "invisible". Her usage here and elsewhere is designed to identify the entity in question without using ambiguous terminology. But if "Catholic Church" was commonly used in the ambiguous way that the reformers insisted on, how would anyone read this decree and know who they were talking about?

This decree only makes sense in a world which was not only using this term already (as we know it had been for over 200 years by this time) but one in which the Christians (and perhaps more importantly: the non-Christians) knew exactly who was being referred to. It wasn't the Gnostics, it wasn't the Montanists, it wasn't the Marcionites, it was the Catholics.


Anonymous said...

I could not agree with you more. It is good to see another Catholic apologist taking this up. Catholic as a quality is small "c." Catholic as an entity is the Catholic Church, the one with the Catechism and the pope.

I know you know the history. It is striking that this bit of polemicism continues as it does.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I'm Fr. J. from the Black Cordelias blog. Nice to bump into your blog. Martyrs only appear to lose!!

Tim A. Troutman said...

Thanks for stopping by father.

Rene'e said...


I was at Mass yesterday. It was a beautiful Mass. We had a visiting Priest from Rome, who was born in Nigeria. I arrived about a half hour before the start. I was sitting there looking at the crucifix and thinking about many things. Soon Mass was about to start and I looked around at about 300 or more seated around me, and I realized something. All of us who were there are one. I thought of you Tim, and all of the Catholics on the blogs, and how much we and our Church are attacked by others, and sometimes from our own in our Church, and yet we continue to stand up for our Church inspite of them all, and we continue to be present on Sundays at our Masses.
As I looked around and thought of of us, I realized, that no matter what others believe about Catholics or our church and no matter how many abuses of the Mass are committed within our church, I absolutely, would not ever want to be anywhere else. We are One, all of us who are Catholics, thanks to our beloveded Church which the Lord Himself gave us. I am so thankful to be a Catholic,along side of all of you on these blogs and every other Catholic in this world. Then I said a prayer for all of us.I thanked the Lord for this Church of His and each and every Catholic within it. I know He could hear me. It was a beautiful Sunday...