What is Catholicity?

The Apostles’ Creed uses the phrase “the holy catholic church.” Some Protestants might balk at this or be somewhat confused by it. What does it mean? When we use this confession in worship at the church I serve I sometimes remind people that “catholic” in this case means “universal.” Another term we might have heard is “catholicity.” What does this word mean? Michael Horton has an excellent discussion of catholicity in People and Place. In chapter seven Horton goes into detail about catholicity from a biblical and Reformed perspective. After explaining the Heidelberg Catechism’s description of the phrase “one holy catholic church,'” Horton explained catholicity in a covenantal way that emphasizes God’s electing grace. Here’s one paragraph I highlighted:

Catholicity does not depend on the similarity of our cultural tastes, consumer preferences, or political views. Nor does it depend on a similarity of our conversion stories, our progress in holiness, or even on our having identical formulations of every doctrine. Yet it does require a common confession (homologein—“same speech”) concerning the triune God and the action of this God for our salvation in Christ: one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Horton, Michael S. People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology. First edition. Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. p. 207.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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