Noun and adjective meaning universal. When referred to the church, the term specifies one of its most prestigious characteristics, that it is not national or local by foundation, but open to all. Believers in Christ who acknowledge the bishop of Rome as the supreme authority are called Catholic. The same term designates the doctrine and rites promoted by the Church of Rome, distinguishing them from those of other Christian communities, which are called by particular names: the Greek Church, Russian Church, Coptic Church etc. In classical Greek, catholic already had the meaning of universal, total, general; from the 2nd c. it was used in a Christian sense by Ignatius To the Smyrnaeans 8,2, Polycarp Martyrdom 8,1; 16,2; 19,2, and in the 4th c. it became definitive, though Cyril of Jerusalem still insisted on the geographical concept of catholocity Catechesi XVIII. This ancient title, preserved by Christians who adhere to the form of faith proposed by Rome, derived from their consciousness of Christianity’s originality, its overcoming of ethnic limitations and its offer of salvation to all without distinction.
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