Have you ever wondered how we became known as “Catholics” and “Christians”?
Before they were called Christians or Catholics, Jesus’ earliest disciples were known as “People of the Way.” This is likely because Jesus called Himself “the way, the truth, and the light” (John 14:6). Many names were used to describe the followers of Jesus in the early days before the term “Christians” stuck.
Acts Chapter 9, the story of St. Paul’s conversion, says, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way… he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Later, the “People of the Way” would come to be universally known as “Christians.” The name “Christian” comes from the Greek word Christianos, which means “Follower of Christ.”
So how did Christians become known as “Catholics”?
The Greek word for “church” is katholikos, which translates to “universal.” The word “catholic” comes from katholikos. Since the true Church is universal, “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19), the precise wording “Catholic Church” is fitting. It simply affirms that she is the “Universal Church,” the true Church established by Christ.
So, we are “Christians”—those who follow Christ—and we are also “Catholic,” that is, members of the one universal and undivided Church united throughout the whole world thanks to the evangelization of the Apostles and their successors.
To learn more interesting facts you may not have known about our Catholic history, check out Fr. David Meconi’s 101 Surprising Facts About Church History, sold here.