Catholicism seems to have begun so quickly after the dispersion of the Apostles that I'm wondering where even it even came from.

I'm especially curious to know when Christians began calling themselves Catholics instead of...Christians:

Acts 11:25-26 ESV So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Assuming we know when it happened...I'm equally curious as to why it happened.

  • @TheFreemason The accepted answer to your link's question shows the difference between the two questions. I'm not looking for the first denomination, I'm looking for when Catholicism started. And since I'm using Catholicism to mean a denomination and not its broader term of "universal", I see these as two different questions. – LCIII Jun 5 '14 at 17:48
  • I made a VTC because this question is controversial with a lot to consider, so it should only be asked once with both sides presenting their arguments. It is a good question though! – Mike Jun 5 '14 at 23:53

I don't think they called themselves Catholics instead of...Christians. They called themselves Catholic and also as Christians. Just like Catholics do even today.

Incidentally the same place where Christians got their name as Christians, is the same place where the Church was first called Catholic. That is at Antioch. The very first reference to the term Catholic is found in a farewell letter by St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch. Around the year A.D. 107, he wrote, "Where the bishop is present, there is the Catholic Church" (To the Smyrnaeans 8:2). Note that he doesn't explain what the term means. Thus, the second century of Christianity had scarcely begun when the name of the Catholic Church was already in use.

In the English language, the first known use of the term is in Andrew of Wyntoun's Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland (~1420 AD), "He was a constant Catholic/All Lollard he hated and heretic." (src)

The reason why they used the term Catholic is because they believed being universal, that is being same everywhere with regards to what was believed, is one of the four marks of the true Church.

  • I think a very important correction to your quote is needed: 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. – LCIII Jun 5 '14 at 19:36
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    Even though the answer was accepted, it doesn't answer the question. "Catholic" in the sense of universal may have been used by Ignatius as an adjective to describe the "universal church," but that doesn't answer when people started using the term "Catholics" (plural) to describe people, rather than the term Christians or even in addition to it. – david brainerd Jun 6 '14 at 3:47

Generally people say "Catholic", but really mean "Roman Catholic". Roman Catholics believe that they were the Christians before denominations as seen here:


If you are Catholic, you know that your religion was founded in the year 33 by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, true God and true man; and that this one Church, to which people must belong to be saved, will exist until the end of time.

What I would say next is better articulated here:

The exact date of the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church is indeterminable. While the belief system recognized as Christianity is in place by the first century, institutional structures developed over time. Nor is it possible to distinguish Catholicism as a separate tradition until it can be differentiated from other Christian traditions (most notably, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism).

The name "Roman Catholic" is generally not used unto the Council of Trent (1545-1563), it clearly didn't exist before Council of Nicea (325). It was use to mostly distinguish "the others" than to identify themselves.

Trying to pin point a date leads us into murky waters. For example, when was the actual split between Judaism and Christianity? And who considered who different first? Was it when Christians consider themselves distinct from Judaism or when Judaism considered Christians distinct OR when they both agreed (did they ever)? A similar set of questions appears when you ask when Protestantism split from Catholicism. Did Catholics consider Protestants different or did Protestants consider themselves different or do they agree?

Back at the ranch, there is no way to pin point the exact day that Catholicism appeared as it was transition, not a quantum leap.

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    Just for readers' information, the Catholic Church does not use the term "Roman Catholic" to describe itself, for the simple reason the Catholic Church is actually constituted by 23 "particular" churches, as they are called. All of them are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, but there is a great variety of liturgical practice among them. The term "Roman Catholic" is discouraged because it could be misidentified with the largest of those churches, the Western or Latin Church, which is the one most familiar to the Western world. – AthanasiusOfAlex Oct 18 '14 at 7:42

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