This entry is in response to a question asked by "Melissa".
Here are a few points to get you started:
The first time that the words "Catholic Church" were used in writing was 110 AD.
Ignatius of Antioch - "Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he ordains [i.e., a presbyter]. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church" (Letter to the Smyrneans 8:2 [A.D. 110]).
It is important to note here that that way this is read, indicates that there is already an understanding that those he is writing to already know this term. He is not addressing a new concept, requiring explanation or definition. So, it can be assumed that this term has already been in use for quite some time before this writing...
For other quotes from Early Church Fathers using the term "Catholic Church", you can go here: http://www.theholymass.com/catholic.htm
Also, Catholicism has a history of succession that can be traced all the way back to the apostles. No Protestant church is able to do this. While the founder of Protestantism is Martin Luther, the founder of Catholicism is Jesus Christ.
There is no historical evidence, in writing or otherwise, that any other Christian "denomination" existed at the time of Christ or for the first 1500 years:
St Augustine wrote: "[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church's] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15-17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called 'Catholic,' when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house" (Against the Letter of Mani Called "The Foundation" 4:5 [A.D. 397]).
If you read the Early Church Fathers, you will also find that they are very Catholic in theology and practice.
The Early Church Fathers can be read online here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.html
If you would like to find quotes on more specific topics, you can find them on catholic.com. Just go the left-hand side of the screen and find the general topic you are looking for. Anything that says "(Fathers*)" after it, will contain the quotes.
Some will admit that the Catholic Church was the first church but then they will throw out another attack claiming that the Catholic Church eventually became corrupt and that the Reformers brought back the apostolic church as it was intended. The major problem with this concept is that it would essentially make Christ a liar.
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
14They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
16Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
This passage shows us that Christ clearly established a Church... not just an "invisible-body-of-Christ" church but a visible church, with authority to bind and loose. Take special notice, though, of verse 18, where Christ tells us he will build a church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it! If Christ kept his promise then what church did he protect? The only available answer is the Catholic Church because it was the only church in existence until the Reformation (outside of Orthodoxy 1054AD).
Christ has protected his Church. In 2000 years, the Church has NEVER changed on issues of faith and morals. They have a solid doctrine that does not change with the whim of society.
It is undeniable that, if you dig deep in history, you will find the Catholic Church. I encourage you to keep seeking God... and continue learning more about the Catholic faith. A word of warning, however... MANY people are out there making all sorts of false claims about Catholicism. At all costs, learn about Catholicism from well-informed Catholics. I would also encourage you to call your local parish and talk to a priest. They have classes you can take called RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). In RCIA, you will be able to learn basics of the faith. There is no obligation to join the church until you are ready to do so. Some people take RCIA for a couple of years until they feel God is truly calling them into the Church.
Before the Reformation, if you were a Christian, you were Catholic or Orthodox and if you were born in the first 1000 years, you were only going to be a Catholic Christian. The Reformation did a lot to destroy the unity within the body of Christ that existed for 1500 years. Perhaps you are being called to return to that unified body of Christ. Perhaps God no longer wants you separated from the Church He established. Seek Him and His will. He will not let you down!
Personally speaking, I have grown much closer to Jesus since I stepped forward in faith toward Catholicism. I have had a lot of confirmation from the Lord that I am moving in the right direction. I won't look back and I have no doubts or regrets.
If you have any more questions, Melissa, feel free to ask. You can also contact me via email through my website: This Catholic Journey