We are going through the four marks of the church: one, holy, catholic, apostolic. In this post we are looking at the third mark: catholic.
Sometimes we use a word and it changes meaning completely. Even to being used as the complete opposite of what was originally intended.
There’s an old prayer:
Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help…
We think of “prevent” as meaning – stop us. But it originally meant help us to go. The opposite.
There is a well-known hymn that begins:
All praise to thee, my God, this night,
for all the blessings of the light;
It has the verse:
Teach me to live, that I may dread
the grave as little as my bed;
teach me to die, that so I may
rise glorious at the aweful day.
“Aweful” there means – full of awe – not as we normally use it – unpleasant.
We still do this. “Wicked” can mean really good. “Sick” can also mean really good. Both words have changed to meaning the opposite of what was originally intended.
Now we get to the word “catholic”. “Catholic” means universal. The whole of it. If you have a catholic taste in food, you like all different foods: Indian, barbeque, hamburgers, roast, Chinese, pizza. If you have a catholic taste in music, you like all different types of music: reggae, classical, rap, pop.
So originally “catholic” meant the whole church – all Christians, not part of the church, not half of the church, not just people who believe exactly what you do, homogenous Christianity. Catholic meant supporting diversity, rejoicing in variety. “Heresy”, false teaching, meant teaching against variety, teaching against complexity and difference.
But people have changed the word “catholic” to mean something else – to mean the opposite. Now you find people often using “catholic” for part of the church – the part where beliefs are the same, the part where the people follow what the pope says.
So “catholic” is bigger than that. But it is not all about bigger. There is a way that the whole is understood to be present in the small. The easiest way to explain this is with the idea of a hologram. As you know, a hologram is actually a 2-dimensional object where you see a three dimensional image – as you move your head it moves just like a three-dimensional object. You see a hologram on credit cards and so on. Well, if you cut it in half, believe it or not, the full image is still there. Cut it into as small pieces as you like – the whole image is always there. The whole is present in every part.
When on Sunday we gather for communion – the whole church is here, the catholic church is here. We say “with all who stand before you in earth and heaven, we worship you, O God, in songs of everlasting praise.” There is only one Eucharist, one altar, across space and time. And the catholic church, the whole church is gathered around it.
So what? All this can be nice-sounding, pious religious language that makes no difference to your life or mine.
Well, actually, to believe in the catholic church is precisely to believe in difference, to be committed to difference, to commit myself to allowing for difference, for variety, in fact for catholicity.
Enjoy the people who are different to you. And stand up for people who are different to you, and believe differently to what you do.
I believe in the catholic church.
This is the twenty-eighth post in a series on the Creed.
The first is Apostles’ Creed.
The second is I believe in God.
The third is a source of the Apostles’ Creed.
The fourth is I believe in the Father.
The fifth is Handing over the Creed.
The sixth is I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son
The seventh is Don’t use the creed in worship
They eighth is Truly God truly human
The ninth is Conceived by the Holy Spirit
The tenth is Don’t use the creed in worship (part 2)
The eleventh is Born of the Virgin Mary
The twelfth is Don’t use the creed in worship (part 3)
The thirteenth is Crucified under Pontius Pilate
The fourteenth is crucified
The fifteenth is Holy Saturday
This sixteenth is He descended to the dead
The seventeenth is on the third day he rose again
The eighteenth is Seated at the right hand of the Father
The nineteenth is Judge the living and the dead
The twentieth is I believe in the Holy Spirit
The twenty-first is But Wait, There’s More!
The twenty-second is And the Son
The twenty-third is Filioque
The twenty-fourth is Two hands of God
The twenty-fifth is Don’t believe in the Church
The twenty-sixth is I believe one Church
The twenty-seventh is I believe in holy church