JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Church, the Teacher of Revelation.

38. We have seen (n. 17) that the Primitive revelation was at first protected against adulteration by the long lives of the Patriarchs. But after the Deluge, when the span of human life was shortened, God set aside His Chosen People to guard and transmit His revelation. Besides, He established amongst them a perpetual body of teachers, called the Synagogue, to spread the knowledge of that revelation, and He sent them from time to time the inspired Prophets to be its infallible interpreters. Thus the pre-Christian revelation, Primitive, Patriarchal, and Mosaic, was preserved substantially intact till the coming of the Messias. It is true that the leaders of the Synagogue had by that time become unworthy of their Divine mission; but they had not ceased to teach substantially the true doctrine, so that Jesus could say to the multitudes and to His disciples: "The Scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things, therefore, whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do, but according to their works do ye not" (Matt. XXIII, 3). And all their vices, the High-Priests had not yet lost the supernatural light peculiar to their office; for St. John relates how Caiphas said in the council of the Jews, "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people"; and he adds: This he spoke not of himself; but being the High-Priest of that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation and not only for the nation, but to gather together the children of God that were dispersed" (XI, 50-52). We see thereby that God had made an adequate provision for the preservation of the pre-Christian revelations.

39. We are now to examine what provision the wisdom of God has made for the preservation of the final revelation, that of Jesus Christ, to keep it incorrupt till the end of time. For this purpose we are to consider 1. The formation of the Church; 2. The doctrinal treasures of the Church, in particular Holy Scripture and Tradition; 3. The work to he done by the Church; 4. The marks of the Church; 5. The constitution and the functions of the Church; 6. The Head of the Church; 7. The Bishops and the Councils of the Church; 8. The relations of the Church to the civil power.

The Formation of the Church.

40. In this chapter we shall have frequent occasions to quote from the Acts of the Apostles. Their reliability is acknowledged by all Christian denominations; it had not been questioned by any scholars before the recent rise of an infidel school of criticism, that of Tübingen, which has assumed the pretentious name of "higher criticism". Still these critics have not found any objections to the Acts on historical grounds, or from extrinsic sources; they only question the intrinsic probability of the narrative. It purports to be from the same pen as the third Gospel, but some of them pretend that its style is different from that of the Gospel; others, that its author must have purposely misrepresented the facts, since these upset their theories. Now even the infidel Renan acknowledges that "one thing is certain, namely, that the Acts have had the same author as the third Gospel, and are a continuation of it." He adds: "I will not pause to prove this proposition, for it has never been contested" (Cornely, Curs. Script. Introd. Vol. III, p. 316). That the Acts are worthy of all credit is evident from the fact that the learned early historian of the Church Eusebius classed them among those sacred Books whose Divine inspiration had never been disputed in the Church. And Tertullian, as early as the second century, reproaches Marcion with having rejected the Acts, and with having done so precisely because of their opposition to his heretical tenets. The Book is quoted fromn by St. Ignatius the Martyr, St. Polycarp, St. Clement of Rome, St. Justin, and was read in churches on Pentecost, as St. Chrysostom testifies (ib. p. 319).

41. The Acts begin their narrative with the Ascension of Christ into Heaven. All his work on earth had been done in a small country, among a people of no political importance, which exercised but little influence upon the world at large, and which was as much despised by the Romans, as itself looked down contemptuously upon all gentiles. The teachings of Christ had been accepted by little more than five hundred disciples, none of them conspicuous for learning, or power, or riches. The leaders among them were chiefly poor fishermen, ignorant and timid men by character and education, though after the descent of the Holy Ghost they became divinely enlightened and supernaturally heroic. Was this all the provision that God had made for the propagation of His revelation, the establishment of His religion in every land, and the preservation of it for all time till the consummation of the world? There must be another provision.

42. It should be noticed that Christ had not written a single line for the guidance of future ages. Nor do we read that He had instructed His disciples to record His teachings or their own, so as to leave written treasures as the repertory from which each man and woman was to draw the doctrines of salvation. He evidently had given no sign that He intended the enlightenment of the world to be procured chiefly by written documents. Besides, as only the very few in those and many subsequent ages knew how to read at all, such provision would have been little suited for the work to be done; nor do we find, in all the productions of the Apostles and Evangelists, or of other early Christians, any exhortations to scatter the written word among the masses, or to establish reading-schools, as is done to-day by Protestant missionaries among pagan nations. On the contrary, St. Irenaeus, a disciple of St. Polycarp, who was himself taught by St. John, has left written that the barbarians in his day believed in Christ without ink and paper (Adv. Haer. L. III, C. IV). Religion then was not designed to be learned from the Scriptures chiefly.

43. But Christ had made another provision to convert the world, and to secure both the extension of His religion into all lands, and its permanence in its integrity till the end of timne, namely, by the establishment of His Church. (See n. 67.) He had formed a special body of select teachers, whom He had carefully prepared during His whole public career to continue the work after Him, and whom in due time He solemnly commissioned for this purpose, furnishing them supernaturally with such aids as eventually made their mission a success. Various stages in the formation and mission of this teaching body are clearly described in the New Testament.

1. St. Luke narrates how Christ prepared for the choice of His Apostles by a night spent in prayer: "He went out into a mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in the prayer of God. But when day was come, He called unto Him His disciples, and He chose twelve of them, whom also He called Apostles: Simon whom He surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon who is called Zelotes, and Jude the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot who was the traitor" (VI, 12-16). These had attended the teachings of Christ from the Baptism of John, and they remained with Him till the end, as St. Peter states in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts, I). And they had a ministry entrusted to them; for Judas "had obtained a part of this ministry," says St. Peter on the same occasion. This body of twelve Apostles was the nucleus of the teaching Church, to which the following text refers.

2. St. Matthew relates how Simon Peter was made the rock on which the Church was to be built; that is, he was to be the chief prop of its strength and permanence, he was to be to the Church what the foundation is to a building. He also intimates in what was to consist the ministry intrusted to it, and that it was to be in a special manner intrusted to St. Peter as its head. Jesus said: "I say to thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in Heaven" (XVI, 18, 19).

3. In Chapter XVIII, the same Evangelist records the promise of Christ made to the Twelve: "Amen, I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in Heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth shall be loosed also in Heaven."

4. St. Luke narrates how the same Twelve disciples, and they alone, were present when, at the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, and commissioned them, saving, "Do this for a commemoration of Me" (XX, 14-19).

5. St. John narrates how, after the Last Supper, Jesus promised the same Apostles the Holy Spirit to teach them all truth (XVI, 13), and to abide with them forever" (XVI, i6).

6. St. Matthew, in the concluding verses of his Gospel, describes the important event of their mission in words which leave no doubt as to its character: "And the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. . . And Jesus, coming, spoke to them, saying, 'all power is given Me in Heaven and in earth: going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world'." As the Apostles were not destined to live to the end of time, this assurance, like the promise cited in n. n. 5, was not limited to them personally, but was meant for the indefectible teaching organization of which they were the beginning.

7. St. Mark, in his concluding verses, narrates briefly the facts of the same mission of the eleven, and adds the promise of miraculous power; he then exhibits them entering on their mission: "But they going forth preached everywhere, the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed."

44. After the Ascension of Christ into Heaven, we find the same eleven disciples mentioned again by name in the Acts (I, 13) as forming a select band, which is to be completed, before the descent of the Holy Ghost, by the choice of a substitute for Judas. They appoint two, but leave the choice to God, saving: "Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two Thou hast chosen to take the place of this ministry and Apostleship. from which Judas has by transgression fallen" (I, 23-25). When the Holy Ghost had come, the three thousand converts "were persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles" (II, 42). This collection of believers was the Church of Christ, which had miraculously sprung into existence on the day of Pentecost, at the preaching of St. Peter and the other Apostles. (See nn. 97, 98.) It was these twelve who continued to govern the Church, who bade the faithful select seven deacons, saying, "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables" (VI, 2), thus showing that preaching was their chief ministry. When St. Paul was miraculously converted, "Barnabas took him and brought him to the Apostles . . . and he (Paul) was with them, coming in and going out in Jerusalem" (IX, 27, 28).

45. From all these facts, and numberless others that might be gathered from the history of the early Church, it is evident that the provision made by Christ for the propagation and preservation of His religion consists in the mission of His Apostles. But the twelve were not able to accomplish the work by themselves alone. While remaining a distinct body, -- to which only Saints Paul and Barnabas ere aggregated by special command of the Holy Ghost (Acts, XIII, 2), -- they sent many others to preach the good tidings of salvation. In the course of time they established permanent Bishops in all the new centres of Christian communities, directing them. in their turn to ordain others. Thus the Acts inform us SS. Paul and Barnabas appointed priests in every Church (XIV. 22). St. Paul chose and ordained St. Timothy as his assistant, then placed him at Ephesus; and instructed him what kind of men he in turn was to select for the episcopal office (1 Tim. III). He also wrote to St. Titus: "For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldst ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee" (I, 5). Those appointed were commissioned to hand down the Apostolic doctrine to future ages. St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy: "The things that thou hast heard of me, the same commend to faithful men who shall he fit to teach others also" (2 Tim. II, 2).

46. St. Clement of Rome wrote about the year 97: "The Apostles made these appointments, and arranged a succession, that when they had fallen asleep other tried men should carry on the ministry" (Ep. I ad Cor., 44). We find the same method in full vigor in the second century, when St. Irenaeus wrote: "All that have the will to know the truth may find in every Church the Tradition of the Apostles, which is known to all the world" (Adv. Haer. L. III, C. 3). About the same time Tertullian wrote a work on "Prescription", in which he lays down these rules to ascertain the true doctrine: The prescription of novelty is against any doctrine which can be shown to have originated after the time of the Apostles; the prescription of antiquity is in favor of a doctrine which can be shown to have been held at any time as part of the faith by all Christians. He refuses to argue with heretics on the basis of the Scripture, and appeals to the possessors of Tradition, that is, to the Churches founded by the Apostles or their successors.

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