How does the Catholic Church define who a Christian is? Is a Christian, according to the Catholic Church, someone who

  1. is baptized,
  2. a member of the Catholic Church or Mystical Body of Christ
  3. something else?
  • When a Catholic uses the word Christian, he is referring to a person who was baptized into the Church Christ founded. So if you were baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or other valid baptisms)you are a Christian and have entered into the family of God. Once entered into the family of God we are obliged to fallow the instructions of those who have authority over us, they being the teaching authority of the Church, the guardians of our souls. Remaining in the vine is still subject to free will, but those baptized are still children of God and considered Christians
    – Marc
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 12:42
  • @Marc Not according to Pope Pius XII et al., who say that baptism, profession of the true Faith, and not being excommunicated are necessary for membership in the Church.
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 3:43
  • 1
    @waxeagle: My question is asking nothing about Protestants, so how could it be a duplicate?
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 3:47
  • 2
    I'm sorry the very encyclical you use to support your assertions addresses the question in other sections of the same encyclical. See for example Section 23 of MYSTICI CORPORIS CHRISTI. Might I suggest that the manor in which you use sources of Catholic teachings may be the same method used by Protestants when they twist the scriptures to fit into their pre-conceived notions. Our separated brethren are Christians who are in need of not only our Mercy, but that of Gods which most be offered above all else to those who search for him.
    – Marc
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 13:00
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    @Marc Yes, Mystici Corporis Christi §23 does clear up a common misconception that all the members of the Church are saved: "Nor must one imagine that the Body of the Church, just because it bears the name of Christ…consists only of those whom God has predestined to eternal happiness." That shows the question of membership in the Church and the question of salvation are distinct.
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 17:05

2 Answers 2


Those who are validly baptized are Christians. From Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council:

  1. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. (14*) For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. (15*) They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God.(16*) They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ's disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. (17*) Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.
  • 1
    You may find that some documents conflict this answer. Trent curses anyone who practices the Sacraments differently than prescribed, and so while this document mentions that some practice them, those who practice them outside of the Catholic Church are not only invalidated, they are cursed.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 1:01

According to Pope Benedict XV's encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, a Christian is a Catholic, who holds the faith in its entirety:

  1. … Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname"…

Also, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote a letter titled "What it Means to Call Oneself a Christian" (Ascetical Works pp. 79-89); he shows that a Christian is one who conforms himself to Christ.


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