To the editor:
In his September column in the Catholic Courier, Father John Dietzen mistakenly writes that “the name Catholic Church to distinguish it from most other Christian denominations started with the Reformation in the 15th and 16th centuries.”
Actually, the name Catholic Church served to distinguish the true Church of Christ from all denominations and sects in the earliest centuries of the Church. In the 2nd century the martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the fledging church of Smyrna emphasizing that communion with the local bishop identified those who were of the Catholic Church. (8:2). The “Acts of the Martyrs” record the interrogation of Pionius during the persecution of Christians. He was asked. “What is your religion?” He replied: “A Christian”. Asked: “To what Church do you belong?”, he replied: “To the Catholic Church”. That was in 250 A.D.
The great St. Augustine explained why he belonged to the Catholic Church amidst the many schisms and heresies flourishing in his time:
“Her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me. The succession of priests, from the very See of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His Resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep, up to the present episcopate, keeps me. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic’, when a stranger inquiries where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani, 4:5; 397 A.D.).
Thus, long before Protestantism, the name “Catholic Church” was the exclusive and proper name of the Church Christ established on the Rock of Peter.