• Greek: kyriakon, belonging to the Lord


A term used from the 3rd century to signify a Christian place of worship, a society of men united in the true worship of God. Since, in the present order, true religion was and is religion revealed and supernatural, by the word “Church” we properly understand a supernatural religious society, “a society of rational beings united in the true supernatural worship of God.” According to this proper acceptation, the word Church is taken in its broadest sense, as meaning the society of all those, whether they be angels or men, from Adam to the end of time, who, adhering to God, are united into what we call the Communion of Saints. This is the Church of God, in its broadest sense, which comprehends the Church Militant on earth, the Church Suffering in Purgatory, and the Church Triumphant in Heaven. The word Church is taken in a stricter sense to designate only the Church Militant. According to this acceptation, Church signifies the supernatural society of all the faithful on earth, from the beginning of the world until its consummation, wao have been united in the true worship of God. This acceptation embraces all the faithful, whether they have existed under the law of nature, the Mosaic law, or the law of grace. We distinguish the status of the Church Militant in a threefold way: the Church of the Natural Law, the Church of Moses, and the Church of Jesus Christ. Finally, in the strict sense the word Church is taken to mean the Church of Christ, or the Church of the New Testament, i.e., the supernatural society of the faithful living under the New Testament. Even in this strict sense the word Church can have several meanings, for it is used to signify not only the entire group of all the faithful, but also: those placed at the head of the Church, or the Church teaching and ruling; the mass of the faithful, or the Church learning. Each of these designations signifies an essential part of the Church, the former constituting the formal element, holding together and informing the whole, and the latter constituting the material element, which is held together and informed by the formal element. The word Church also means the particular Church of one city, province, or country; in this sense, Church signifies a particular grouping, considered as part of the whole, and sharing in the nature of the whole. Sometimes the word Church is referred not so much to the society of the faithful as it refers to the building in which a group is actually congregated to worship God. More properly, such a building is called a sacred edifice; or a sacred temple of God, although the common usage of the word is correct. The Church of God on this earth, according to the broad sense declared above, is the society of the faithful, or the society of those worshiping God by the true cult. But just as in the economy of revelation and of salvation through Christ the Redeemer, three stages are distinguished, by which there is a perpetual progress from the more imperfect, through the more perfect, to the fulness of time, so we distinguish a threefold status of the Church to correspond: the Church of the Natural Law; the Church of Moses; the Church of Jesus Christ.


This was the Church in the time of the beginning of things, which is called the period of the natural law. The Church was instituted to repair human nature immediately, after the lapse of our protoparents, with the promise of a future Redeemer. Just as Revelation itself in the beginning was less full and less clear, so also the Church in that state of beginnings was less clear-cut and was held together simply by the profession of the true faith, and the true cult, of God. Hence, the visible unity of the Church, at this time rather loose, was practically brought right down to one profession of the true faith, and to the truth of the cult offered to God. Therefore, the corpus of the Church, which is held together in unity, as collstituted in its first formation, was perfect.


The whole economy of the ancient dispensation from the time of Adam lay in the fact that the old dispensation was a preparation and a type of Christ and His Church. In order that that economy might correspond more perfectly to this purpose, God, in the course of time, chose and instituted through Moses a particular people in whom, as Revelation and its typical character became clear, the form of the Church became more distinct. The Church, according to this peculiar form, did not comprehend the whole people of God, but was only a divinely instituted society made up of a particular people of God. Therefore, the Mosaic Church did not constitute the whole Church of God, but was the principal part of the whole Church of God which was promised and instituted in the proto-parents of the race for all posterity. Through the particular covenant entered into with the people of Israel; the universal promise made by God to Adam for the whole human race was not abolished or restricted, but was especially preserved, propagated, and more distinctly explained in one chosen people. Therefore the Gentiles were not bound to that peculiar form of the Church which was defined for the Hebrews. Rather for the Gentiles up to the time of Christ the Church of the Natural Law remained. The form of that peculiar Church instituted in the people of Israel, instead of the more imperfect form of the Natural Law, was more clear-cut in the unity of its sacred ministry, in the element of spiritual sovereignty, and in the teaching power, by which the unity of that whole people was determined in the worship of God, as well as in sacred learning and doctrine. Yet this was but a foreshadowing and a preparation for the Church of Jesus Christ in the perfect status of the New Testament. The form of the Church, imperfect as it was in the Old Testament, did not cease to exist in Christ by way of destruction, but by way of translation, for He translated it from an imperfect to a perfect status. “I am not come to destroy but to fulfill.”


The Church of God received from Christ a special form and constitution. Besides a more ample Revelation, the Church obtained from Christ, as its Author, the perfect organization of a supernatural society, viz., a hierarchy by which it was to be ruled and taught, and the sacraments by which it was to be sanctified. Henceforth men would adhere to Christ as their Head just in so far as they were united to and subject to the hierarchy instituted by Him. The Church, considered from this special aspect, as a perfect society, is new, taking its beginning from Christ, and is accordingly called the Church of Christ. As the form given to the Church by Christ is a necessary mode of the Church of Christ, it remains clear that after the time of Christ, the true Church could not continue to exist without the form given by Christ. Therefore, no one can belong to the true Church of God, who is outside the Church of Christ.


A saint standing with or, more often, carrying a small version of a church, generally indicates that they helped found or build a particularly notable church.

Associated in Art with

MLA Citation

  • “Church”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 21 March 2013. Web. 19 January 2022. <>