Skip to content


Church History Forum: When was the Church first called Catholic?

by Catherine Frakas 29 Nov 2001

When was the Church first called Catholic? QUESTION from Linda October 20, 2001 My Son in Law asked me a question that I need help to answer. When did the Church first start calling itself the Catholic Church and why do they think they are the orginial Church set up by Jesus? He is confused cause he was raised Baptist and his Grandmother told him they are the church set up by Jesus. I realize I may not give him a satisfactory answer but I thought I could try with your help. A answer from an expert may help. Thank you Linda
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on October 20, 2001 Dear Linda,
The Baptists have existed since the early 17th century, in contrast with the Catholic Church which was founded by Christ upon Peter as recorded in Matthew 16:18.
The term Catholic which means universal was used from a very early date, in connection with the Church with the Successor of Peter as its head: In contrast, the term Baptist is not to be found at all in the early centuries. An examination of the writings of the Early Church Fathers will show that the early Church was Catholic in its belief, not Baptist.
I quote from Catholic Answers: What Catholic means

Ignatius of Antioch Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he ordains [i.e., a presbyter]. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church (Letter to the Smyrneans 8:2 [A.D. 110]). The Martyrdom of Polycarp And of the elect, he was one indeed, the wonderful martyr Polycarp, who in our days was an apostolic and prophetic teacher, bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word which came forth from his mouth was fulfilled and will be fulfilled (Martyrdom of Polycarp 16:2 [A.D. 155]).
It would be a good idea to read that whole Catholic Answers article, as it contains many more citations.
As to why Baptists think they are the church set up by Jesus, first it is good to note once again that the beliefs of Baptists are nowhere to be found in the Early Church. Baptists do not regard themselves as offshoots of the Protestant Revolt of the 16th century; rather they try to trace their origins back to Apostolic times. Baptists sometimes claim St. John the Baptist (more correctly known as St. John the Baptizer) was the first person to baptize, so the early Church was Baptist, not Catholic. Two responses. first, John did not baptize with the Trinitarian formula, (as required in Matthew 28:19)and second he did not baptize with the Holy Spirit. See John 3:27 , where St John the Baptist replies to those who say everyone is gong to Jesus for baptism: A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.
Also note in Matthew 3:14 we see that John wanted Jesus to baptize him, thus showing the inadequacy of John ´s baptism.
John 1:31-33
„the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be reveaed to Israel....the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'the man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' So from the point of view of John’s baptism, there can be no claim that the Baptists can trace the lineage of their church back to him as his baptism was only a forerunner of the true Trinitarian Baptism: In any case, there can be no historical connection established linking the Baptists with the early Church. A study of the early Church writings demolish any such claims of the Baptists.
It should also be pointed out that the term Baptist does not appear for most of the Chirstian era: In fact, there is no mention of the name Baptist until the early 17th century: See my earlier answer on the History of Baptists . There is likewise no support for Baptist beliefs until this time: Note also that the Baptists do not have any connection with the Anabaptists of the 16th century, (who were persistently disavowed by the early Baptists, and who differed from them on baptismal form among other things) or other earlier groups who rebaptized and were hence known as ana-baptists (re-baptizers) (For example the Donatist heretics of St. Augustines’s time were referred to as ana-baptists because they insisted on rebaptizing those who has fallen into apostasy during a time of persecution; in fact, the Donatists shared most beliefs with Catholics, and it was this issue of rebaptism of apostates which caused the split with the Catholic Church. The Donatists as a group bore no relation whatsoever with the Baptists of the 17th century) In my file on Cardinal Hosius , I show that there is no connection between the Anabaptists of the 16th century and earlier rebaptizing sects, hence it is absolutely impossible for the Baptists, who themselves do not share the beliefs of the 16th century Anabaptists to trace their lineage back to the time of the Apostles!
A book I recommend for Baptists looking at the Catholic Church is Crossing the Tiber by Stephen K. Ray, himself a convert from the Baptist faith: This book covers Baptism and the Eucharist in Scripture and the early Church as well as giving Ray’s conversion story: Also by the same author Upon This Rock , giving Scriptural and early Patristic evidence for the Primacy of Peter.
I would finally encourage you to look at the teachings of the Early Church Fathers, for example at
Catholic Answers: Sacraments
Catholic Answers: The Church
and see what the Early Christians believed about the Eucharist, Baptism, Primacy of Peter etc: It will be clear that the early Church was Catholic, not Baptist.
Thanks Linda
God bless,
Back to Index Page

930 x 520px


Sample Block Quote

Praesent vestibulum congue tellus at fringilla. Curabitur vitae semper sem, eu convallis est. Cras felis nunc commodo eu convallis vitae interdum non nisl. Maecenas ac est sit amet augue pharetra convallis.

Sample Paragraph Text

Praesent vestibulum congue tellus at fringilla. Curabitur vitae semper sem, eu convallis est. Cras felis nunc commodo eu convallis vitae interdum non nisl. Maecenas ac est sit amet augue pharetra convallis nec danos dui. Cras suscipit quam et turpis eleifend vitae malesuada magna congue. Damus id ullamcorper neque. Sed vitae mi a mi pretium aliquet ac sed elitos. Pellentesque nulla eros accumsan quis justo at tincidunt lobortis deli denimes, suspendisse vestibulum lectus in lectus volutpate.
Prev Post
Next Post
Someone recently bought a
[time] minutes ago, from [location]

Thanks for subscribing!

This email has been registered!

Shop the look

Choose Options

Recently Viewed

Edit Option
Back In Stock Notification
this is just a warning
Shopping Cart
0 items