When was the word “Catholic” first used?
The first usage of the word “Catholic,” we have, is from the pen of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Around the year AD. 107 Ignatius was sentenced to death by lions in the Coliseum. As he was being escorted to Rome he wrote a famous series of letters to different Churches.
In his letter to the Church at Smyrna he wrote,
“Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. The celebration of the Eucharist is valid only if it is administered by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Where the bishop is, there let the people also be; just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
The fact that St. Ignatius uses the word “Catholic” without explaining what he meant has lead scholars to believe that the appellation, Catholic Church, may have been in use as early as the second half of the first century.
What does the word mean?
The word Catholic comes from the Greek katholikos, the combination of two words: kata– concerning, and holos– whole – concerning the whole. Also sometimes translated to mean, universal.
Since the time Ignatius used the word “Catholic” and, most probably, well before that, the term Catholic has been used to distinguish between the Church that Jesus established – the universal Church – from the splinter groups that have broken away.