" Just like there is "early," music, or "early" architecture.
Catholic Pictures during this time were very primitive, mostly because of the medium on which they painted, or drew.
The time frame we are talking about is typically from about the year 95, till about 500, after which the art of Christians began to reflect elements of the Byzantine style.
Doubtless, before the year 95, there were countless artistic expressions of Catholicism, but as is currently known, there is no record of them.
This of course does not mean that they did not exist, as is the probable conclusion, but only that they did not survive.
And there are many reasons why the art did not survive.
The first reason is that prior to the c.
200, Catholics may have been persecuted to the point of not being able to produce long lasting works of art.
The circumstances were just to dire.
They met in secret, they were instructed in the Faith in secret, and if they expressed themselves artistically, it was also in secret.
Another good reason for the art not being long lasting, was that the Gospel was typically preached to the poor, and lower class.
It would logically follow that the poor would have little money; little money for higher quality materials, which they could then use to produce lasting Catholic pictures.
There is the opinion that early Catholics were victims of a scrupulous adherence to the mosaic law, which forbade worshipping graven images (idolatry), but this is preposterous, because relics are known to have passed from the hands of the early Catholics, and their veneration would also have been idolatry (in that vein of thought).
So the possibility that early Catholics had venerated relics, but idolized picture paintings is an absurd contradiction.
It would have been far too inconsistent for their demeanor at that time.
Another possibility that is just too hard to determine at this point (will it ever become more clear?), is that early Christians used pagan symbols for their art, but with a Catholic meaning.
This has some credence, as we know that early Catholics used the fish, for a symbol, and while not pagan, it does not directly reflect a divine creature.
And there is also the symbol of the cross too, which was a pagan symbol for punishment, but afterwards was adapted to the use of the Christians, for the reflection of the symbol as the sign of the Christ, the God-Man.
Other symbols, which had a more deeply pagan root, are not known, but it is entirely possible.
Perhaps the early Christians adopted some pagan symbols with Christian meanings, but later decided to drop them from the artistic repertoire because either a) the meaning was lost (which is doubtful), or b) there were better symbols that represented what was trying to be expressed.
Some more simple reasons why the early Catholic art was not long lasting was because in the early days, there were fewer people, and thus, fewer artworks.
Also, dogmas were not as developed as they were later on, especially after the time of St.
Augustine, and even more so towards the time of St.
Thomas Aquinas, and even more so after the time of the Council of Trent, when Dogma had a very deep, developed, and flourishing period.
Less development of Dogma means less scenes that could be depicted in Catholic Pictures.
For example, the assumption of the Blessed Virgin might not have been taught very much in the early days, but that Christ died on the Cross most certainly was taught.
This also ties in with education, which in the early days was rudimentary, but as time progressed and the persecutions stopped, education flourished, and so did Catholic art.