“When,” says St. Cyprian, “the devil saw that the worship of idols was abolished, and the heathen temples emptied, he bethought him of a new poison, and led men into error under cover of the Christian religion, the poison of false doctrine and pride, through which more than two hundred churches have started up in opposition to the true Church founded by Christ.” Now God has ordained that men should come to knowledge of the truth; i.e., of the true Church as distinguished from all others by certain marks.
1. The true Church is that one which is most persecuted by the world, and which has received God’s seal in the form of miracles.
Christ often spoke to His disciples of these persecutions: “The servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me they will also persecute you” (John xv. 20). “They will deliver you up in councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues . . . you shall be hated by all men for My name’s sake” (Matt. x. 17-22). “Yea, the hour cometh that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth a service to God” (John xvi. 2). “Because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John xv. 19). Never in the history of the Catholic Church has it been free from persecution. Whatever be the differences between the sects they unite against the Church. The apostles, especially St. Paul, were objects of hate to the Jews (Acts xiii. 50; xvii. 8), and St. John (166 A.D.) testifies that their hatred of the Christians had not died out in his day. The present day is not wanting in examples in the sufferings inflicted on religious communities, in the interference of the secular governments in things spiritual, in the opposition made to processions and meetings and other devout practices. Can any Church be the true Church which does not oppose the spirit of the world? Then too it. is only in the Catholic Church that we have miracles: those, for instance, of the apostles, all the saints worked both in their lifetime and after death, either at their graves or by the application of their relics. We know that God would work miracles only in confirmation of the truth.
2. The true Church is that one in which the successor of St. Peter is to be found.
The Church rests on a rock and that rock is Peter: “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church” (Matt. xxviii. 20). “Where Peter is, there is the Church,” says St. Ambrose.
3. The true Church is known by the following four marks: she is One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic.
The Catholic Church alone has these marks:
1. The true Church is One. She has at all times and in all places the same doctrine, the same means of grace, and only one Head.
Truth can only be one; hence the teaching of the Church cannot change. Christ wished His Church to be one; for that He prayed at the Last Supper (John xvii. 20); “There shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John x. 16); He appointed one Head for the whole Church (John xxi. 17). The Catholic Church is One: her Catechisms the world over teach precisely the same doctrine. Every where the holy sacrifice is offered, and the sacraments given in the same way; the same ceremonies and feasts are observed all over the world. All Catholics acknowledge the Pope as Head of the Church. If there were antipopes it is nonetheless true that some one was the true Pope; the existence of many pretenders to a throne does not exclude the claim of the true king. Nor can heresy destroy this unity, for the heretic who refuses to submit is no longer a member of the Church. None need accuse the Church of want of progress because it holds fast by its old established doctrines; there is no true progress in giving up the truth and adopting error. The truth cannot change; hence Bossuet might well say: “Protestantism, thou art changeable, therefore thou canst not be the truth!”
2. The true Church is Holy, i.e., it has the means and the endeavor to lead all men to holiness.
Christ founded the Church for the very purpose of making men holy. The Catholic Church is holy. All its teaching is lofty and pure; the great principle underlying its commands are self-denial and the love of one’s neighbor; all its sacraments, and especially penance and the Holy Eucharist are great aids to the sanctification of mankind, and the complete following out of the evangelical counsels can lead a man to the highest point of perfection; moreover the Catholic Church has a host of saints, whose holiness is attested by miracles. The misdeeds of some members, or abuses occurring within the Church are due not to the Church, but to the perversity of men. Even among the apostles there was a traitor, and Christ compared some members of the Church to weeds and worthless fish. Can any Church be holy which adopts Luther’s teaching that faith alone is sufficient for salvation, and good works unnecessary? or Calvin’s doctrine that some men are predestined by God to hell fire? or any Church which, on its own confession, owns that none of its members have been saints and their sanctity confirmed by miracle?
3. The true Church is universal or Catholic, i.e., she is empowered to receive men into her bosom in all places and all times.
Christ died for all men, and on ascending into heaven gave His apostles the mission to teach all the nations of the earth till the end of time (Matt. xxviii. 20). Hence His Church was meant to be for all nations, -and this is confirmed by the miracle of tongues on the first Pentecost. The Catholic Church is universal; her teaching applies to all people, the polished Greek, the victorious Roman, the rude barbarian as well as to the outcast slave. At present the Catholic Church is spread over the whole world. “Heretics are everywhere,” said St. Augustine, “but no particular heresy is everywhere.” The Church has about 260,000,000 members, hence it is more widespread than any other religion, and is continually sending missionaries to the heathen. Can, then, any Church which depends entirely on the government, as, for instance, the Russian Church, or the Anglican, which is wholly national in England, be the true Church? or can one which has no real success among the heathen have a claim to truth?
4. The true Church is Apostolic; i.e., she comes down from the time of the apostles, her teaching is always what it was in the time of the apostles, and her ministers are legitimate successors of the apostles.
The Church is built on the foundation of the apostles of which Christ is the corner-stone (Eph. ii. 20). “That is the true Church,” says St. Jerome, “which was founded by the apostles and endures unto the present day.” The Catholic Church is Apostolic; it has lasted nineteen hundred years, Luther himself confessed that it was the oldest. The teaching of the oldest of the Fathers agrees perfectly with our Catechism, and our services are substantially the same as those of the first ages.
The consideration of these notes and marks has, in the course of ages, led many of the noblest of men into the bosom of the Catholic Church.
It is remarkable that men of the greatest learning and virtue have, even in the face of great sacrifices, entered the Catholic Church, while those who have deserted it have generally shown by their lives what they really were. We have reason to rejoice in our religion that it oilers us such special consolation in trouble and at the hour of death. Thus Melancthon wrote to his Catholic mother: “The Protestant faith is the best one to live in, but the Catholic is the best to die in,” and again: “The new religion makes the best show, the Catholic gives most security.”
This article, 7. NOTES OF THE TRUE CHURCH is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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