Are Catholics Christian? Such a question seems foolish on the surface. Of course Catholics are Christians. Catholics hold that Jesus Christ is the long-awaited messiah, the anointed one—the Christus (Christ). The word Christian literally means little Christ. Those who follow Jesus and imitate Him are therefore known as little Christs or Christians. Moreover, the Catholic Church developed the language needed to define, as much as could be defined, the nature of Jesus, the Divine Son and the Trinity in which He resides. The development of this language is called Christology.
Under the surface of such a question is the assumption that Catholics are in fact not Christians, despite what is mentioned above. The assumption is that there exists something in Catholic belief that disqualifies them from the ranks of little Christs. It is to this assumption that I will focus this article. I will show that not only are Catholics Christians, thanks to the Sacraments, are the most Christian of all.
The definition of the word Catholic means universal. The first Christian to use the word Catholic to refer to the Church was St. Ignatius of Antioch in 110 AD. In Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, he states:
Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. [emphasis added]
St. Ignatius’ reference to the bishop indicates that the essence of the word catholic is unity, unity around the person of the bishop. With no bishop, there is no unity and, by extension, no valid Church, for he goes on to state:
It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. [emphasis added]
In this one short passage from 110 AD, we see the bishop, two Sacraments (baptism and the Eucharist), and the Catholic Church called out by name. Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.
The Case Against Catholics as Christians
According to some Protestant Christians (those who belong to denominations that broke off the Catholic Church in the 16th century), while the Catholic Church’s Christology is correct, it has incorporated other “unbiblically” false doctrines and thereby has invalidated itself in the process. What are these beliefs?
Catholics believe salvation is via faith and works.
Catholics worship Mary and the Saints.
Catholic worship graven images.
Catholics put the clergy (priests, bishops, and pope) in between God and man.
According to the protestant Compelling Truth, such extra-biblical beliefs “create a religion that is different than biblical Christianity.”
Now, those who claim to follow “biblical Christianity,” and who also claim that Catholics do not follow it, set the standard for themselves on what is or is not “biblical Christianity.” They define “biblical Christianity” themselves and others and condemn all who do not fall into their definition. In reality, what these Protestant Christians do is condemn other Christians for not following their personal interpretation of the Bible, not the Bible itself. I have written about this in other articles, please click here and here for samples.
Catholic Sacraments Make Real the Little Christ
Moreover, let’s harken back to the word Christian. Remember, the word Christian means little Christ. By the name of Christian, we who follow the Christ must reflect Him in our everyday lives. We must be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. The Catholic Church does this more so than any other Christian group in her charity work alone, but this is not how Christ literally touches the world. Christ literally touches the world through His sacraments. These sacraments make little Christ known in the larger world.
In baptism, Christ washes the world of sin.
In the Eucharist, Christ feeds the world his flesh and blood and therefore gives life.
In Confirmation, Christ gives the world the Holy Spirit anew.
In Reconciliation, Christ forgives the world of sin.
In Matrimony, Christ gives a sign of the heavenly marriage to come.
In Holy Orders, Christ touches the world with his very hands.
In Last Rites, Christ give comfort to the dying.
At the outset of the article, I asked the question: are Catholics Christians? I answered that yes, Catholics are most definitely Christians. I then listed out what the word Christian means and how even those who claim Catholics have given up this label due to “unbiblical beliefs” do not disagree with Catholic Christology. Furthermore, I then showed that Catholics are more little Christs than anyone through their Sacraments. In the Sacraments Christ is manifest in the world in a physical way. So, yes, Catholics are Christians.
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