Why We Call Ourselves Catholic, Not Just Christian

As followers of Christ, Catholics make up a large part of Christianity, however we are typically not referred to just as ‘Christian,’ but rather Catholic or Catholic-Christian. Why is such a distinction necessary?

That’s what a listener named Luke asked recently when he called in to The Patrick Madrid Show. As a Christian exploring Catholicism, Luke wanted to know why Catholics don’t just call themselves Christian, and why they feel the need to distinguish themselves from the rest of Christianity.

“There are a couple of reasons for it,” Patrick said. “One is that the usage of the term ‘catholic’ began very early in Christianity. So by the end of the 1st century and in the beginning of the 2nd century we begin to see in writings, from St. Ignatius of Antioch for example, that the Church was being called ‘catholic’ – the Catholic Church. The custom was to refer to the Catholic Church to designate or denote those specific followers of Jesus who held to the teachings that were given to the apostles.”

“And that leads to the next answer,” Patrick continued, “which is that nowadays ‘Christian’ is so elastic and so broad that it can mean many different things to different people. So, the term Catholic gives a level of precision as to which group of people we’re talking about. The word Catholic, from its earliest years, has been used as a way to separate from ambiguity what this particular church that Jesus established is, what it stands for, and what it believes and teaches. Keep in mind that the Catholic Church doesn’t see itself as a denomination, but as the church that Christ established. There are denominations within the Protestant world, but that is not the same as the Catholic Church itself.”

Patrick concluded the call by encouraging Luke to keep asking questions and exploring Catholicism, saying “The point you’re making is a really good one. What is so unique and special about the Catholic Church? If, indeed, there is something special, what is it?”

Listen to the full conversation below:

The Patrick Madrid Show airs weekdays from 9-noon Eastern/6-9 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.