The Catholic Defender: What's in a Name
Acts 9:31 "Then the church throughout all* Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord."
*In the original Greek, it is:
Acts 9:31 ἡ μεν ουν εκκλησια καθ᾽ ὁλης της ιουδαιας και γαλιλαιας και σαμαρειας ειχεν ειρηνην οικοδομουμενη και πορευομενη τω φοβω του κυριου, και τη παρακλησει του ἁγιου πνευματος επληθυνοντο.
The term in bold commonly translated as 'church throughout all' is in Greek '”εκκλησια καθ᾽ ὁλης”—pronounced "Ekklesia Kath olos” or the Church Universal or some might say The Catholic Church, since Kath olos is the same term used by St Ignatius for the Church in his letter. So is it valid to say that the Catholic Church is indeed identified as Christ's Church in the 9th chapter of Acts?
This next coming week at Mass the Old Testament reading comes from Isaiah 66:18-21. It is really an important scripture as it reads, "Thus says the Lord: I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them; from them I will send fugitives to the nations: to Tarshish, Put and Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.
Doesn't this sound familiar with St. Peters Speech on that first Pentecost (Acts 2:5-13)? All these nations such as from Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, those from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, and Libya. Even from Rome. People from throughout the Roman Impire.
Isaiah refers to a sign that the people will see as well as His glory. What is this sign that Isaiah is speaking to? Could it be the Eucharist? God states, "I will set a sign among them"! From the Catholic Catachism 1325, it states, "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit." What is this glory that God is speaking through the Prophet Isaiah? Jesus give a clue in John 12:23 saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified"! Jesus also said, "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself" (John 12:32). St. Peter said to the people, "The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his servant Jesus whom you handed over and denied the Holy and Righteous One..." St. Paul wrote, "but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ gave the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
In reflecting on this I couldn't help thinking of this sign and glory of God! What it would have meant to those who witnessed this. This truly is the beginning of the New Testament and the age of the Church. At no time in the Old Testament did the Israelite see the nations coming to the Lord as we have seen beginning with the age of the Church!
The question has been asked, “Is the Catholic Church the ancient, original church? I read my Bible every day and I’ve never found the word ‘Catholic’ in its pages.” It would be faulty logic to say, "The name ‘American’ is absent from the U. S. Constitution. Therefore we should not be called Americans.” Sometimes a concept precedes a describing word. A case in point is the word ‘Trinity.’ It is not to be found anywhere in the Bible, yet the thought behind it, one God in three persons, is woven throughout scripture.
This is also the case for the word ‘Catholic.’ After the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the Holy Spirit came to the apostles 50 days after the resurrection. This event is now known as Pentecost. The Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to boldly proclaim the way of salvation. As the gospel message spread, one of the earliest descriptions of us was, ‘The Way,’ (Acts 18:25). Soon, we weren’t accepted in the synagogues because we proclaimed Jesus as the Christ. Largely due to St. Paul’s expansion efforts, we began to extend beyond Palestine. As early as 40 A. D., ‘The Way’ became known as ‘Nazarene.’ This name arose because believers recognized Jesus, the Messiah, as the shoot of Jesse that would come and establish his kingdom. Fulfilled scripture described Messiah as coming from Nazareth, the bud (Hebrew for Nazar) of Jesse, father of David. Truly, Jesus was born king of Israel through his lineage to David regardless of the ‘King’ Herod who sat on the throne. (Herod was simply a puppet of Rome who recognized the threat of a newly born, but rightful king. This is the reason why Herod gave the order to destroy all the male babies in the land.)
Our early ‘Nazarene’ name should not be confused with the Protestant church known as ‘The Church of the Nazarene.’ This recent church was formed in Pilot Point, Texas in 1908 through a merger of three holiness groups that followed the early teachings of Methodism. (The Methodist church was founded by John Wesley in the 17th century.)
As the apostle Paul moved among the gentiles, the Church grew in size and stature. Our imitation of Jesus and philosophy to love one another caused us to stand out in a crowd. The world was controlled by force and dominated by power. We were a contrast, and were considered a threat to the 'status quo.’ Our internal structure continued to organize as we grew. St. John prepared several young men for the priesthood. Before St. Peter journeyed to Rome, he placed one of them, St. Ignatius, as bishop of Antioch. We first became known as 'Christians’ (Acts 11:26) at Antioch.
St. Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch; he was one of the first writers we know who used the word ‘Catholic.' He wrote to the Ephesians saying, “where Jesus Christ is, there also is the holy Catholic church,” and he died a martyr. The name ‘Catholic’ implied a unified church arranged in an organized, and hierarchical structure (the Church who submits to a local bishop who submits to the Bishop of Rome).
Some two hundred years later, the Bible was compiled, and the Church was called ‘Catholic’ because it represented orthodoxy, the established faith. The Church continued to grow and we have now become universal in presence. The name ‘Catholic’ and ‘Christian’ is interchangeable. We are Christ-like and part of a universal Body of Christians called Catholic.