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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

8 - The missionary character of Catholicism



As we noted in the opening chapter of this book, Catholicism has always understood its universality as a call to reach all people. As a consequence, the Catholic Church has always manifested a strong missionary character as one of its defining characteristics. That missionary impulse means that it is a mandate to reach the Gospel everywhere and at all times. The universal character of Catholicism is both a fact and an urgent necessity.

That Christianity spread from its Jerusalem center rapidly after the earthly life of Jesus is a fact. Indeed, it is clear from the New Testament itself that the first Christians had a conviction that they were inspired by God to spread their faith universally. Catholics have always invoked the “great mandate” found in the Gospel of Matthew as their missionary watchword: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). According to the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples, shortly before the ascension of Jesus into the heavens, heard him stipulate something quite similar: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

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Further reading
Anderson, Carl, A Civilization of Love (New York, N.Y.: HarperOne, 2008). A popular plea for a reinvigoration of Christian values in society as proposed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Bevans, Stephen and Schroeder, Roger, Constants in Context: A Theology for Mission Today (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2004). A useful work for both mission history and a theology of mission.
Bosch, David, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Missions (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1991). An irenic view of different theologies of mission by a Protestant authority. Important work.
Jenkins, Philip, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). A large-scale study of the changing demographics of Christianity.
Moffett, Samuel H., A History of Christianity in Asia (2 vols., Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2005). A comprehensive history of Christian expansion as it spread east.
Rahner, Karl, “Towards a Fundamental Theological Interpretation of Vatican II,” Theological Studies, 40 (1979): 716–27. Seminal essay on the changing face of Catholicism into a world Church.
Sanneh, Lamin, ed., The Changing Face of Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Essays on the emergence of a world Christianity.
Sanneh, Lamin, Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Has a useful bibliography on mission.
Schreiter, Robert, ed., Mission in the Third Millennium (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2001). Prospective work on mission by a noted Catholic authority.
Stark, Rodney, The Rise of Christianity(San Francisco, Calif.: Harper, 1996). A somewhat contested account of how early Christianity grew.
Yates, Timothy, Christian Mission in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Valuable for historical view and critical analysis of challenges.