Catholicity (from ancient Greek καθολικός kathikós , 'concerning the whole', 'general') stands in Christian ecclesiology for adherence to Catholic teaching in the universality and unity of the Church under its head Jesus Christ . In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed called it belongs as of essence and identifying all Christians of the Church for the common profession of faith: In the church the fullness is the Christian faith in full and all-encompassing announced to all people, without a part of faith or some skipping of the people. The interdenominational totality of the Church of Jesus Christ is therefore referred to as the Catholic Church or Universal Church in the sense of the mystical body of Christ , as well as individual churches in the denominational sense in which catholicity is realized. In the different churches, however, there are different views on individual questions regarding the definition of catholicity and its applicability to other communities.
The Greek καθολικός kathikós is derived from the adverb καθόλον kathon , a combination of the preposition κατά katá 'in relation to' and the adjective ὅλον hólon 'the whole'. As a term for several things common to many things, it already appears in Aristotle and Polybius as a contrast to καθ 'ἕκαστον kath' ekaston for the particular, individual. Later the meaning of 'completely, general' was consolidated, the word meaning of 'catholicity' therefore ranges from 'the general, the whole pertaining', also in the sense of 'the integrity, the holistic' to the 'fullness' as opposed to μερικός merikos 'Partly' and ίδιος idios 'particularly, special'. The first Christian writers used it even more in its original meaning, for example the "Catholic resurrection" for Justin the Martyr , "the Catholic goodness of God" for Tertullian or the "four Catholic winds" for Irenaeus of Lyon . This is also the meaning of the Catholic letters , which are not addressed to specific local churches but to the entire church as a whole. From the adjective, a noun and proper name soon developed as a designation for the true church in contrast to heretical splinter groups and has been used in almost every language since then.
The noun "catholicity" ( ancient Greek καθολικότης kathikótes or Latin catholicitas ) only appears late in theology, it may have emerged in modern times. It appeared in French as an academic term in the mid-16th century.
The original meaning of "Catholic" has been preserved in Greek to this day, where it means "universal", unless it is restricted by another adjective.
Early Christian sources
In the biblical writings , the term does not appear literally on which there described "general, the comprehensive and unique reign of the Messiah" above all nations of the earth but it is the word sense and is contrary to the special and exclusive sovereignty of God over the chosen people of Israel in Judaism .
The earliest reference to the theological use of the term as an attribute of the church is the letter of Ignatius to the Smyrneans , in which he asked the Christians in Smyrna to maintain unity with the bishop around the year 110 :
"Wherever the bishop appears, there is also the people, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is also the Catholic Church."
The designation “the Catholic Church” ( ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία he kathike ekklesia ) for the universal Church as the totality of the local churches (to which the community in Smyrna belongs) seems to have already been established at the beginning of the second century; Ignatius uses them quite naturally and seems to assume they are known. Belonging to Christ and universality are recognizable as the two essential elements of catholicity, which are inextricably linked: only Christ can hold the whole together and unite. He did not consider the representatives of docetism to be Christians because they did not believe in the real incarnation of God .
Other early Christian sources from the following period also take up the term naturally. By the 3rd century at the latest, the technical, ecclesiological meaning was established in theological literature and prevailed over the original basic meaning in the 4th century. In the martyrdom of Polycarp (around 156) both the entire church ( universal church ) and each individual local church are named as a full-fledged Catholic church of God , as already described in the apostles' letters ( 1 Cor 1: 2 EU ). This double meaning is also used with the Church Fathers . Justin the Martyr writes of the same meaning in his dialogue with the Jew Tryphon (between 155 and 160 AD) of the “general and so-called eternal resurrection”. Clement of Alexandria (150–215) describes the Apostle Decree Acts 15, 22–29 EU as the “Catholic letter” of all apostles, ie the “common letter of all apostles”. He further states of the Church:
"So we claim that the ancient and universal Church is only one in its essence, its concept, its beginning and its paramount importance."
Cyril of Jerusalem summarized the development of the term in the fourth century in his catechesis to the baptized : “[The Church] is called Catholic because it is in the whole ecumenical movement from (one) end to (other) end of the earth and because it teaches comprehensively and seamlessly all dogmas that must come to people's knowledge. ”He expressly refers to an inner, qualitative meaning (orthodoxy) and an outer, quantitative meaning (globality). “Catholic” thus expressed both right faith as opposed to heresy and organizational unity as opposed to schism . This expanded meaning had developed from the second half of the second century and was justified by the fact that the Catholic Church can invoke the preaching of the whole truth and representation of the whole Church, while heresies arise from the overestimation of individual truths and primarily local occur. The designation “Catholic Church” thus developed into a proper name for the true church founded by Jesus Christ, as opposed to special communities . With this in mind, Bishop Pacian of Barcelona wrote around 370 in the First Letter to Sempron ( Epistula I ad Sempron ), in which he criticized Novatianism :
"Christianus mihi nomen est, catholicus vero cognomen."
"My name is Christian, but my cognomen (nickname, surname) is Catholic."
In Cyprian of Carthage , in addition to the use of attributes, there is also a word meaning as a proper name , for example in the title of his main work de ecclesiae catholicae unitate ("On the unity of the Catholic Church", 251) and many phrases such as catholica fides ("the Catholic faith", Ep. Xxv; ed. Hartel, II, 538), catholica unitas ("the Catholic unity", Ep. Xxv, p. 600) or catholica regula ("the Catholic rule", Ep. Lxx, p. 767). The substantive use catholica as a short form of ecclesia catholica can be found in the Muratori canon (around 170) as well as in Tertullian's de praescriptione haereticorum (“On principle opposition to the heretics”, XXX) and other Christian authors, especially in North Africa.
The concept of universal catholicity first gained practical significance in the debates with the Donatists at the beginning of the fourth century. Unlike most heretical groups, they did not advocate any special christological teachings, but met resistance with their understanding of the church. They claimed to represent the true church of Jesus Christ and laid down certain characteristics of the church which they saw fulfilled only in themselves. However, their opponents pointed out that the title "Catholic", by which the Church was generally known, required more reliable criteria and was not applicable to a locally restricted faction. In this controversy, the Doctors of the Church, Optatus von Mileve and Augustine von Hippo, developed their ecclesiology and emphasized the universal character of catholicity, since according to the writings of the Old and New Testaments the Church is spread all over the world.
In many Christian communities, including Alexandria, Carthage and Rome, bitter disputes arose over the correct doctrine of the faith, in some cases there were several competing bishops who regarded themselves and their teaching as legitimate. The main points of contention in the third century were Christological questions about the nature of Christ and the Trinity. Then had Modalism , Adoptionismus , Marcionism , docetism , subordinationism and Arianism or syncretism as Gnosticism and Manichaeism different answers. For Christians, this diversity of beliefs was inconsistent; after all, the common belief in Jesus Christ could not be based on different truths. The theologians of the first centuries therefore looked for the universal core meaning of what really constitutes the Christian faith. While some of these teachings were rather insignificant, others were more widely used, but remained local, were mostly short-lived, changed, or fell into even smaller subgroups. However, there was a clear consistency of the doctrine of the faith among almost all bishops and the great majority of Christians, which the pagan author and critic of Christianity Kelsos described as "the great church" at the end of the second century. From then on, this was increasingly given the attribute "Catholic". Although it was possible to differentiate between what did not correspond to the Catholic Christian faith, its precise content was still not bindingly defined.
The bishops of the early church met at the first two ecumenical councils to end the Christological differences between Trinitarianism and Arianism . In the first Council of Nicaea (325) they established the Confession of Nicaea , which rejected Arianism and also contains a reference to the “Catholic Church” as the guarantor of faith. In the following first Council of Constantinople (381) the creed was expanded as Nicano-Constantinopolitan , which since then has been the basic formula of faith of almost all Christians, and the essential characteristics of the church established by Jesus Christ were expressed:
"We believe ... the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church"
A translation of the Greek word is also possible, in German “general” instead of “Catholic”. Only Reformed churches make use of this in the German-speaking area. In the Protestant churches in Germany (e.g. in the EKD ) the term “Catholic” is reproduced in the creed as “Christian” or “general”.
In his catechesis to the baptized , Cyril of Jerusalem explains about the creed and the delimitation from heretical teachings:
“The word ἐκκλησία ekklēsia is used in different senses. So it is called z. B. from the crowd gathered in the theater at Ephesus: 'After he had said this, he dismissed the ἐκκλησία ekklēsia '. Someone could justifiably claim: the assembly of the nefarious heretics, the Marcionites and Manichaeans , etc. are actually also a church. Therefore the creed assures you: 'and to a holy, catholic church'. You should avoid the ugly meetings of the heretics, but you should always be faithful to the holy, Catholic Church in which you were born again! When you come to a city, don't just ask, 'Where is the house of the Lord?' For the godless heretics also dare to call their taverns the house of the Lord. Also, don't just ask: 'Where is the Church?' But rather: 'Where is the Catholic Church?' Because this is the special name for our holy church, for the mother of us all, who is the bride of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. "
While most Christian Roman emperor with the Arianism had sympathized said Theodosius I 380 in the Edict of Thessalonica the nicäanische creed as relevant and "only those who follow this law, should [...] may be called Catholic Christians." All others should be considered heretics.
A little later, Augustine von Hippo also emphasizes the “Catholic Church” as opposed to heretical groups in his work Against the Epistle of Manichaeus : “And finally [ensures] the name 'Catholic' alone, which the Church not without reason despite so has preserved many heresies; so that although all heretics wish to be called Catholics when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will dare to point to his own chapel or house. "
"Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself we must take every possible care to keep the faith that everyone, everywhere, always, has believed."
While all Christian denominations refer to catholicity, some have the term “Catholic” in their names. However, the term Catholic is used less often in the churches that emerged from the Reformation in order to avoid confusion with the Roman Catholic Church.
The term “Catholic Church” or “Roman Catholic Church”, used in the denominational sense, only emerged in the wake of the Reformation to make it easier to differentiate between the divided Christian denominations and means the church that recognizes the primacy of the Pope as head and representative of Christ. As a rule, the church only describes itself as “the church” or “the catholic church”, in ecumenical dialogue the term “Roman Catholic” is sometimes used, probably for reasons of simplicity.
A number of other churches and ecclesiastical communities that stand in the tradition of the Western Church, but are separate from it, have “Catholic” in their names as a reference to their catholicity.
- Old Catholic churches
- Free Catholic Church
- Catholic Apostolic Congregations
- Catholic Church of the Mariavites
- Palmarian Catholic Church
In the ecumenical movement today, sobornost , the Russian translation of the Greek Catholicos , is sometimes used to denote the general Church, without restricting the association with the word Catholic to the Roman Catholic Church.
The various churches that recognize the early church creeds see themselves as a unit founded by God through faith in Jesus Christ, the Catholic universal church as the mystical body of Christ . Their essential characteristics and identifying features ( Notae ecclesiae ) include, in addition to catholicity, unity, holiness and apostolicity , as stated in the Nicano-Constantinopolitanum : "We believe ... the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church".
Even the Protestant churches see themselves as parts of the "one holy general or Christian (= Catholic) church" and can therefore also be called Catholic , which, however, can lead to misunderstandings in a denominational sense.
Catholicity is of particular importance in ecumenical dialogue.
Essential characteristics of catholicity
Catholicity is one of the essential characteristics of the Christian Church, which is the earthly body of Christ .
“This catholicity is given to the church as a gift from the Lord and is one of the marks by which we can recognize it. But it always remains a task to which we reach out and so an order that we never quite catch up. "
The general public is expressed in the Church in several points:
- Generality of the doctrine that is proclaimed in it ( Cyril of Jerusalem , Catecheses )
- Universality of all virtues practiced in it ( Francisco Suárez )
- Duration from Adam to the End of the World ( Augustine )
- Ability to sanctify the life of all people in all situations and at all times
- the expansion over the whole world
- the multitude of their members from all peoples
The meaning of the term has been the subject of discussion throughout the history of theology. It got a special meaning through the church divisions of the 2nd millennium, when the separated churches became aware of their actual particularity. This is why the term is difficult to use in common parlance.
The quantitative component of catholicity describes the external work: The mission of the church is aimed at all people, regardless of time and place or personal characteristics and is therefore all-encompassing. The Greek name ἐκκλησία ekklēsía (“the one called out”) refers to the fact that “through her all men are called and united”, according to the command of Jesus: “Therefore go to all peoples and make all men my disciples; baptize them in the names of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey all I have commanded you. Be certain: I am with you every day until the end of the world. ”( Mt 28:19 EU ) Through the temporal indifference, the church also includes people who lived before Christ, provided they lived according to the law and reason “having found favor” with God. This argumentation can also be used for people after Christ who have not received the Christian message.
Hallmarks of catholicity
According to the understanding of the pre-Reformation churches (with certain restrictions including the churches of the Anglican tradition), characteristics of catholicity are :
- apostolic succession
- Emphasis on the sacraments
- Recognition of church tradition ( tradition ) alongside Holy Scripture as a source of revelation (for example the Apostolic Fathers )
- Acknowledgment of the results of the generally recognized ecumenical councils :
The individual churches, which see themselves as Catholic in this sense, differ in some points in their self-image.
Understanding of individual churches
While Christianity was still relatively unified in the early church , the theological controversy began with the alienation of the western and eastern churches ( oriental schism ) over the question of which of the particular churches the "Catholic Church" should be found in in this sense, where there can be only one general church. In the wake of the Reformation , this question has become more complex and catholicity is interpreted differently by the various Christian churches and communities.
Roman Catholic Church
According to its self-understanding, the Roman Catholic Church cannot be identified with the one Church of Christ and is not the only one that fulfills catholicity, but in it it is most adequately realized. According to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council , the universal Church is "realized in ( subsistit in ) the [Roman] Catholic Church". In the encyclical Ut unum sint , Pope John Paul II says that the fullness of the elements of healing and truth cannot be found in other communities, but only in the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, he points out that in other communities "certain aspects of the Christian mystery can sometimes even come to light more effectively".
The Lutheran Reformation saw itself as an intra-Catholic reform movement. This fact finds its justification and development initially in the 7th and 8th articles of the Augsburg Confession from 1530. There it is stated that “a holy Christian church must always be and remain”. The Latin text confesses and defines it as the dogmatically binding the church as una sancta ecclesia .
Characteristics of the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church are therefore the pure teaching ( pure docetur ) and the proper dispensing of the sacraments ( recte administrantur sacramenta ). Human traditions, rites, or ceremonies are not necessary for the true unity of the church.
Dogmatically, the una sancta catholica et apostolica is also spoken of as a church in the broader sense ( large dicta ), which experiences its visibly composed form in the pure teaching and the appropriate dispensing of the sacraments and is thus recognizable. Nevertheless it remains the one Catholic Church. The one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is an article of faith for the Lutheran Church, as it also confesses in the three early church symbols and the confessional writings.
The pure doctrine and the understanding of the proper administration of the sacraments is presented in the Lutheran churches in the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church , because the doctrine written there agrees with the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Doctrines and teachers, according to the formula of the Agreement in its 1st article, which contradict Holy Scripture, are outside the Catholic Church. The confessional documents compiled in the Book of Concords see themselves as Catholic in the sense that the binding statements made there are believed and known by the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church at all times and in all places. The Lutheran confessional writings do not see themselves as denomination-specific doctrine, but as right doctrine in the sense of catholicity.
The catholicity of the Lutheran churches is also clear in their understanding of consecration, as it is e.g. B. can be found in the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church :
“After the ordination vow you have taken, I, as the called and ordained servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, hand over the holy office of the word and the sacraments to you and consecrate you to a servant of the 'One, Holy, Christian Church', in the name of God the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit. "
In this Lutheran formula of consecration, the term “Catholic” is translated as “Christian”.
The Reformed theology of the Reformation period essentially agrees with Lutheran theology on these points. John Calvin , too , in his answer to Cardinal Sadolet, defined the Church as “the communion of all saints, which, scattered over the whole world and through all times, is connected by the one teaching of Christ and the one Spirit and in the unity of faith and fraternal unity holds fast and cultivates it ”. Because unity and catholicity are linked to agreement with the teaching of Christ, this is precisely where the strongest impetus for the Reformation emerges. In the Geneva Catechism of 1545 he explained the attribute "Catholic" as follows:
"Just as there is only one head of believers, they must all grow together into one body so that there is one church that is spread over the whole world and not many."
The 17th chapter of the Confessio Helvetica posterior also deals with the “catholica et sancta Dei Ecclesia” and states: “That is why we call it the Catholic Christian Church because it is all-embracing, extends over all parts of the world and over all times and is not restricted by time or place. "
Newer evangelical ecclesiology
The study, The Church of Jesus Christ , adopted by the Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist and United Churches in the Community of Evangelical Churches in Europe in 1994 took up the fundamental decisions of the Reformation and underlined:
“The Church is Catholic (all-embracing) by virtue of its origin. Because the church has its origin in the Word of God as the salvation of the whole world, it is not limited by natural human communities, but as a community created by God encompassing (Catholic). The life of the church is communion with the triune God. Christians and churches are faced with the task of making this gift of God tangible in shaping their lives by crossing national, racial, social, cultural and gender boundaries. In its catholicity, the church is the promise of a community that embraces all human beings. "
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