The term catholic is from the Greek, signifying universal or general, all-embracing and whole. The word catholic comprises the World Wide Church and includes the justified and the sanctified. The Body of Christ is called catholic because it is the whole visible and spiritual church throughout all time. The word only gradually came into circulation at the end of the first century, the earliest known usage is from the letter to Smyrna from Saint Ignatius: "Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church." In this context catholic would come to mean both universal and orthodox.

At the point of history when puritan exclusiveness came to the fore, the synthesis of catholicity was broken and the word took on new meaning. The word catholic soon applied only to those who maintained the apostolic creeds, ministry, sacraments, and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Until Vatican II, the Roman church would preserve the misnomer by excluding those from fellowship outside of Roman influence and applying the term to them only (the Anglicans and Methodists however have always been catholic). Those who hold allegiance to the bishop of Rome have no rightful monopoly of the word catholic. The puritan use of the word has been so corrupted today by all the churches as to suggest one is either Catholic or Christian, a mistaken contradiction in terms and confusing to Christians desiring unity and dialogue in love.

Thomas Aquinas allowed that love is due to all mankind. A catechetical instruction of Saint Thomas was that the church is catholic, which is universal; it is universal in place, because it is worldwide. John Wesley told us to "Go first, and learn the first elements of the gospel of Christ, and then learn to be of a truly catholic spirit." Emerson writes that "the evolution of a highly destined society must be moral; it must run in the grooves of the celestial wheels. It must be catholic."

The person who is truly catholic is the one who gives his heart to all who is right with the Lord. A person of catholic spirit is one with Jesus' church and is firmly grounded in love. Unity will not come without the catholic spirit of acceptance and overt catholic action towards universal ends. If we are truly a part of the restored church that will prepare to be wedded to the Lamb, it will be that part of the catholic church that accepts us all with the catholic spirit of love.
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