The name Catholic, comes from the Latin adjectives “Catholicus” which comes from another Greek word “Catholikus”. The Greek word is made up of two words “Kata” and “Holon” which means universal or worldwide. So when we speak of the “Catholic Church,” we mean the “universal Church,” because it has spread throughout the entire world, from one end of the earth to the other, teaching fully and unfailingly the same doctrines it received from the apostles.
The first recorded use of the name “Catholic” in reference to the Christian Church was in the writing of St. Ignatius of Antioch who as a young man was one of the Disciples of the apostle, John. After studying under the apostle, Ignatius was appointed a bishop to the Church of Antioch. It was at this very church that the disciples were called Christians. St Ignatius ruled as bishop of Antioch for 40 years, and his fearless witness for Christ as widely known, little wonder, he was the only Christian arrested at Antioch and had to stand trial alone.
Around the year A.D. 110, St. Ignatius, on his way to Rome as a prisoner to be put to death because of his Christian faith, wrote seven letters of which five were addressed to churches in Asia Minor and were delivered by Christians who had been sent to greet him. In his farewell letter to his fellow Christians in Smyrna (today Izmir in modern Turkey), he made the first written mention in the history of “the Catholic Church.” He wrote:
“You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father. Follow too the presbytery as you would the apostles, and respect the deacons as you would God’s law. Nobody must do anything that has to do with the Church without the bishops’ approval. You should regard that Eucharist as valid which is celebrated either by the bishop or by someone he authorizes. Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. Without the bishop’s supervision, no baptisms or love feasts are permitted. On the other hand, whatever he approved pleases God as well” (Smyr. 8:1-2)
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Thereafter, mention of the name “Catholic” became more and more frequent in the written record. It appears in the written account of the “Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, “bishop of Smyrna, a church for which our Lord Jesus Christ had nothing but praise (see Rev.2:8-11)
In A.D. 155, at the age of 86, he was arrested and publicly burned at the stake for being a Catholic. The account of his sufferings dates back to the time. The narrator informs us that in his final prayers before giving up his life for Christ, St. Polycarp “remember all who had met with him at any time, both small and great, both those with and those without renown, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.”
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The account then concludes, “Now with the apostles and all the just Polycarp is glorifying God and the Father Almighty, and he is blessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world.”
Thus, from the second century on we see the term catholic being used regularly by Christians as an establishment description of the Church.
St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (France) who was the author of the first known book of Christian doctrines, would later explain at about A.D. 182 that Catholic believers had their roots in the teachings of the apostles, which heretics were those who followed other teachings or claimed to have new, inspired teachings directly from God.