When did the term "Roman Catholic Church" first come into being?

By November 1, 2014 14 Comments

Full Question

When did the term “Roman Catholic Church” first come into being?


It is not possible to give an exact year when the Catholic Church began to be called the “Roman Catholic Church,” but it is possible to approximate it. The term originates as an insult created by Anglicans who wished to refer to themselves as Catholic. They thus coined the term “Roman Catholic” to distinguish those in union with Rome from themselves and to create a sense in which they could refer to themselves as Catholics (by attempting to deprive actual Catholics to the right to the term).
Different variants of the “Roman” insult appeared at different times. The earliest form was the noun “Romanist” (one belonging to the Catholic Church), which appeared in England about 1515-1525. The next to develop was the adjective “Romish” (similar to something done or believed in the Catholic Church), which appeared around 1525-1535. Next came the noun “Roman Catholic” (one belonging to the Catholic Church), which was coined around 1595-1605. Shortly thereafter came the verb “to Romanize” (to make someone a Catholic or to become a Catholic), which appeared around 1600-10. Between 1665 and 1675 we got the noun “Romanism” (the system of Catholic beliefs and practices), and finally we got a latecomer term about 1815-1825, the noun “Roman Catholicism,” a synonym for the earlier “Romanism.”
A similar complex of insults arose around “pope.” About 1515-25 the Anglicans coined the term “papist” and later its derivative “papism.” A quick follow-up, in 1520-1530, was the adjective “popish.” Next came “popery” (1525-1535), then “papistry” (1540-1550), with its later derivatives, “papistical” and “papistic.” (Source: Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 1995 ed.)
This complex of insults is revealing as it shows the depths of animosity English Protestants had toward the Church. No other religious body (perhaps no other group at all, even national or racial) has such a complex of insults against it woven into the English language as does the Catholic Church. Even today many Protestants who have no idea what the origin of the term is cannot bring themselves to say “Catholic” without qualifying it or replacing it with an insult.


  • Here’s one for you. I’ve been told “you Catholics are pagans because you have statues in your church” and I answered no we are not. The statues are there to give us some sense of being able to relate to the person we are asking to intercede for us. We aren’t worshipping the statue.

  • Jun says:

    See I am correct after all. So please call our Church “Catholic” period.

  • Archie says:

    So should never refer to our church as the Roman Catholic? Why is it not discouraged then?

  • Brother Don says:

    Hate to say it, but the first calling of the Catholic Church as “Roman Catholic Church” can be traced back to Constantine in the early to Mid 300s when he accepted the Catholic Church as a valid faith. He’s findings were that the “leaders”, what we now call Popes, were predominately “housed” in the Rome area, so he called us the Roman Catholics. As you said t didn’t become a negative slang until the 1500-1600 as bad as it is now though. But our Church was called Roman Catholic since the time of Constantine, and Catholic since roughly 70AD (oldest verifiable documents of the Church being called Catholic). In Christ, Br. Don – Diocesan Hermit

    • Thank you, Brother Don you historically complemented it right .

    • Evans says:

      That’s right

    • John Hallman says:

      Don, the term “catholic” meaning universal was used early, and designated the assembly of believers in Christ. The proper term “Catholic” is different, and designates the Roman church. Many confuse the two and believe they are the same, but they are not. There truly is a universal church, which is all true believers in Christ, but there is no denominational designation to that church.

  • Fr. Virgilio Canete says:

    But the Biblical basis for the name is Romans 1:8 where Paul acclaims the faith of the Romans as “heralded throughout the world(katha holos); it goes back then to New Testament times and one cannot just start at any point afterwards.

    • John Hallman says:

      Interesting to use this text, since it is quite a reach. Perhaps it should be called the Collossian Catholic church, because Col 1:4 says “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints”. Or maybe the Ephesian Catholic church, since Ephesians 1:1 says “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful[a] in Christ Jesus”. Or maybe even (though doubtful) the Corinthian Catholic church, since 1 Cor 1:2 refers to them as ” To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”.
      This is typical of someone not well studied in the Bible, to take a conclusion, and then go looking for a Bible verse that can be used to justify that conclusion. This is called eisegesis, and is incorrect teaching.

  • Robert A. Morin says:

    This kind of makes me wonder when the term “Byzantine” or “Greek” Catholic came to be. These were used to distinguish those Eastern Churches that reunited with the Holy See of Peter vs. those who remained in Orthodoxy. However, knowing how or when they were given either one of these two names is another thing.

  • Mo says:

    It’s also interesting to note that in Turkey, Orthodox Christians are often referred to as ‘Rum Urtuduks’ (Roman Orthodox). Seems the term has a kind of ‘transferrability’.

  • Thomas says:

    I’ve read that this happened much earlier, sometime in the 11th century when the Church split as eastern or Byzantine Church and the west as Roman Catholic Church.

  • Trish White says:

    I have ALWAYS been proud to call myself “Roman Catholic,” it sets me apart from everyone else! So, keep calling me Roman Catholic, I take it as a compliment. AS for “papists” a woman that supposedly was a very good Christian, Ellen G. White, of the 7th Day Adventists, in some of her writings, (supposedly, God inspired, ) referred to Catholics, as papists. The Adventists hold her up, as we Catholics, like a saint. Bring that to an Adventist, and they will deny it, until their breathless. But, the church is overflowing with her many books, writings, etc.

  • HT says:

    “No other religious body (perhaps no other group at all, even national or racial) has such a complex of insults against it woven into the English language as does the Catholic Church.” As a person of Jewish descent I find that ridiculous and offensive.

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