Why the Church is 'Catholic,' Not 'Universal'

As I was consulting a helpful text for my line of work (A Jesuit Education Reader, edited by George W. Traub, S.J.) I found an end note that referred me to an essay by Walter Ong, S.J., published in this magazine in 1990.

In "Yeast: A Parable for Higher Catholic Education," Fr. Ong, one of the great Catholic scholars of the last half century, took on the question of pluralism in Catholic higher education, focusing on the decision of the early church to select the Greek katholikos, rather than the Latin universalis, to describe the church.

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Fr. Ong's essay unfolds the implications of that decision and draws upon the parable in Matthew 13, where Jesus compares the reign of God to yeast.

Living yeast corresponds to what the Catholic Church has really been, for the Catholic Church has in fact never been at all definitively "universal" in the sense that it has actually included all parts of the human race or even anywhere near the greater part of the human race. But if it has never been by any means "universal" in such a sense, it is certainly "catholic" in the sense that it has always been in one place or another growing, spreading into new dough, in accord with the parable of the yeast.
 

To read more of this fascinating essay, click here.  

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Abigail Woods-Ferreira
3 years ago
I needed this essay from Br. Horan today. I've been thinking a lot lately about what exactly it means to be "Catholic," both spiritually and institutionally. This was extraordinarily helpful. Thank you.

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