The word "Christian" is a New Testament term (Acts 11:26) that predates the use of "Catholic" (circa 110 AD). In that sense, "Christianity" came before "Catholicism."
"Catholic" is an adjective from the Greek, kata, "according to," and holon, "the whole." It developed in controversies among Christians about how to interpret the Christian tradition. Catholic Christians judged according to the mind of the whole Church while heretics selected just part of the tradition at the expense of the rest.
- 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." However, in view of the context, some difference of opinion prevails as to the precise connotation of the italicized word, and Kattenbusch, the Protestant professor of theology at Giessen, is prepared to interpret this earliest appearance of the phrase in the sense of mia mone, the "one and only" Church [Das apostolische Symbolum (1900), II, 922]. From this time forward the technical signification of the word Catholic meets us with increasing frequency both East and West, until by the beginning of the fourth century it seems to have almost entirely supplanted the primitive and more general meaning."
There never was a primitive Churchless Christianity. From the beginning, Jesus organized His Body under the authority of the apostles; the apostles appointed presbyters (turned into our word "priest") and deacons.
Both Catholics and heretics came from the same earlier tradition. Catholics preserved the whole revelation made by Jesus (the Deposit of Faith) while the heretics splintered into small groups that died out.
None of those splinter groups gave birth to our modern "denominations." Most are from the 16th century. A few trace their roots to Jan Hus in the 14th century. All separated from the Catholic Church, taking some things from the Tradition, abandoning other elements, and adding novelties to produce their own form of Christianity. The modern heretics rely on the Catholic tradition to connect themselves to the origins of Christianity. So, for example, it was the Catholic Church, so named and containing all of the elements found in the Church today (pope, bishops, priests, deacons, councils, sacraments, theology, creeds, liturgy, etc.) that collected and certified that the 27 books of the New Testament are the Word of God.
When Jesus ascended in Heaven, He left a Body, not a "book" (the Bible is really a library, not "a" book). The Body grew through oral tradition, first generating the writings, then collecting, preserving, and certifying them as sacred scripture. It is the combination of the 27 books of the New Testament plus the books of the Old Testament that gives us "the Bible." So the Bible was produced by the Catholic Church. Whoever relies on the Bible is relying on the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.
- DeLubac, Catholicism, 48-49.
- The Church is not Catholic because she is spread abroad over the whole of the earth and can reckon on a large number of members. She was already Catholic on the morning of Pentecost, when all her members could be contained in a small room, as she was when the Arian waves seemed on the point of swamping her; she would still be Catholic if tomorrow apostasy on a vast scale deprived her of almost all the faithful. For fundamentally Catholicity has nothing to do with geography or statistics. If it is true that it should be displayed over all the earth and be manifest to all, yet its nature is not material but spiritual. Like sanctity, Catholicity is primarily an intrinsic feature of the Church.
One true Church
People become enraged at the Church's claim that she faithfully preserves the whole of the Deposit of Faith: all of the revelation given by Jesus to His disciples and all of the sacraments by which He intended to build, nourish, heal, cleanse, and sustain His Body on earth. To many, the Church's claim seems to be fascist or totalitarian; they perceive the Church's teaching authority as a threat to their intellectual and spiritual freedom, and, as a general rule, they despise the Church's teachings on chastity.
The Body of Christ is bigger than the boundaries of the visible Church on earth.
We are not saved or damned as members of a group. Not all Catholics go to Heaven; not all who are non-Catholic go to Hell.
The doctrine that the Church is the one true Church on earth does not mean that everything about every other religion is false.
Other world religions.
Other forms of Christianity.
- Paul VI, promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: “There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation.”
- The meaning of "subsists in":
- Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community”, that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. “This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him”.
- In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.
- It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. Nevertheless, the word “subsists” can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the “one” Church); and this “one” Church subsists in the Catholic Church.
- In response to Boff’s assertion that the one Church of Christ “is able to subsist in other Christian Churches”, the Notification states that “the Council chose the word “subsistit” specifically to clarify that the true Church has only one “subsistence”, while outside her visible boundaries there are only “elementa Ecclesiae” which – being elements of the same Church – tend and lead to the Catholic Church.”
- It is precisely this change of terminology in the description of the relationship between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church which has given rise to the most varied interpretations, above all in the field of ecumenism. In reality, the Council Fathers simply intended to recognise the presence of ecclesial elements proper to the Church of Christ in the non-Catholic Christian communities. It does not follow that the identification of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church no longer holds, nor that outside the Catholic Church there is a complete absence of ecclesial elements, a “churchless void”. What it does mean is that if the expression “subsistit in” is considered in its true context, namely in reference to the Church of Christ “constituted and organised in this world as a society… governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”, then the change from est to subsistit in takes on no particular theological significance of discontinuity with previously held Catholic doctrine.
- In fact, precisely because the Church willed by Christ actually continues to exist (subsistit in) in the Catholic Church, this continuity of subsistence implies an essential identity between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church. The Council wished to teach that we encounter the Church of Jesus Christ as a concrete historical subject in the Catholic Church. The idea, therefore, that subsistence can somehow be multiplied does not express what was intended by the choice of the term “subsistit”. In choosing the word “subsistit” the Council intended to express the singularity and non “multipliability” of the Church of Christ: the Church exists as a unique historical reality.
- Contrary to many unfounded interpretations, therefore, the change from “est” to “subsistit” does not signify that the Catholic Church has ceased to regard herself as the one true Church of Christ. Rather it simply signifies a greater openness to the ecumenical desire to recognise truly ecclesial characteristics and dimensions in the Christian communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the “plura elementa sanctificationis et veritatis” present in them. Consequently, although there is only one Church which “subsists” in one unique historical subject there are true ecclesial realities which exist beyond its visible boundaries.
- Paul VI, Address of 21 November 1964: AAS 56  1009-1010.
- Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.1.
- Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.2; 3.4; 3.5; 4.6.
- Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen gentium, 8.2.
- Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, 1.1: AAS 65  397; Declaration Dominus Iesus, 16.3: AAS 92 [2000-II] 757-758; Notification on the Book of Leonardo Boff, OFM, “Church: Charism and Power”: AAS 77  758-759.
- Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 11.3: AAS 87 [1995-II] 928.
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notification on the book of Father Leonardo Boff: “The Church: charism and power”: AAS 77 (1985) 758-759. This passage of the Notification, although not formally quoted in the “Responsum”, is found fully cited in the Declaration Dominus Iesus, in note 56 of n. 16.
- MXM: "Plura elementa sanctificationis et veritatis" means "many elements of sanctification and truth."