When did the Church of Christ move from being an oft time persecuted sect to being truly “Catholic”. The early Church was underground because of persecution and; many times did not appear to have a coherent system of theological thought? It was when Constantine faced his rival Maxentius on the Milvian Bridge that spanned the Tiber River into Rome.
It was on this bridge that Constantine prayed for victory over the enemy of Rome. It was on Oct 27, 312 CE. that Christ himself showed Constantine the chi-rho sign. This was the Greek letters of the first two letters of Christ. Constantine out fitted his men with this sign of the Lord’s protection, and on the next day Constantine won a decisive victory over Maxentius. This was the day after his vision; where God assured Constantine of this victory in Christ’s name.
Constantine’s Milvian bridge experience, like Paul’s Damascus rode experience settled any matter of the truth of the Gospel; for him. The church became truly Catholic in that moment as this ushered in a time which is called the “Peace of the Church.” In 313 Constantine became the undisputed leader of the Western Roman Empire. It was at this time the now Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the empire. in the Edict of Milan.
This time of peace allowed formerly persecuted church leaders and theologians some time to focus on the praise and nature of Christ. The sacraments and liturgical practices that had been the focus of Christian worship were now defined in a way that brought a wonderful reassuring uniformity that brought comfort to the faithful in the churches throughout the Empire. It also gave the missionaries of the church an opportunity to present a more coherent faith to the rest of the pagan world.
With in one generation of the ushering in of this unprecedented cohesion in the development of sacramental and theological teachings of the church, it could now be said the church was truly ‘”Catholic.” Bishop of Jerusalem Cyril wrote a treatise on what differed the Catholic Church from those fragmented Christian sects that still continued to exist. He that when inqiriuing some place away from one’s home Chruch one should not just as where the Lord’s House was, but rather where the Catholic Church met.” For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, which is the mother of us all;” wrote Cyril.
He went on say the Catholic church , because it extends over all the worldfrom one end of the earth to the other;universally and completely one and all doctrines which ought to come to human knowledge ,concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly,
So even those of the faithful who do not practice this day in the Roman Catholic Church we are being nevertheless Catholic when were pray the liturgical prays of the Daily Office and in worship participate in the sacraments brought to perfection by the ancient Catholic church. We are transformed in fellowship with the risen Christ and moved to reconcile ourselves to God and to do the work among the least of us, in the name of the Lord. St. Ignatious of Antioch wrote in 110C.E “wherever Christ Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” Constantine’s Milvian Bridge experience made the universal church a physical reality of a spiritual truth. Where the spirit of the Lord is and is honored the spiritual reality of the body of Christ takes hold and transforms all of us.