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

The Work to be done by the Church.

67. When Christ said to St. Peter, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. XVI, 18), He stated clearly that He would establish a permanent institution which would derive its power of permanence from its relation to St. Peter. To prepare for this event, He had, on the occasion of His first meeting with that destined Apostle, said to him, "Thou art Simon the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter" (petros, a rock, Jo. I, 42). That which Christ promised to found on this rock He calls His "Church"; and what He means by "Church" is indicated by the name used by the Evangelist to designate it, Ecclesia (ekklêsia), which means an "assembly," an "organized meeting". Christ therefore promised to establish His "Assembly," the congregation of His followers, in such a manner that it would derive its power of permanence from St. Peter. Now, "the assembly of believers in Christ, under the obedience of the successors of St. Peter," is the very definition of the Catholic Church. As to the English word "Church" (the Scotch "Kirk," the German "Kirche," etc.), it seems to mean "house of the Lord" (kuriakon), and is used both for the building and for the assembly that meets in it. We find the plural "Churches" often used in the Scriptures to designate the several local assemblies but the singular the Church," "My Church" etc., evidently denotes the congregation of all the faithful; as when St. Paul writes to the Ephesians: "Christ loved His Church and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the layer of water in the word of life" etc. (V. 25, 26).

68. We have seen that, on the first Christian Pentecost, three thousand men, converted by the speech of St. Peter, were baptized, and were "persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles" (Acts ii, 42), thus constituting this promised "Assembly," with St. Peter at its head the Apostles were the "teaching Church," the faithful were the "taught". It is so to-day: the teachers, being the successors of the Apostles, derive their mission from them. It must be so till the end of time; else the gates of hell would have prevailed against the Church, of which Christ said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it". Nor can the Church ever cease to teach the true doctrine; for the Spirit of truth is to abide with her for ever: "I will ask the Father," said Christ, "and He shall send you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever, the Spirit of truth" (Jo. XIV, 16).

What is thus clearly taught in Holy Scripture is the unanimous doctrine of the Fathers. St. Jerome writes: "As long as the world shall last -- the strength of the Church shall be tested, and it shall abide the test. This will be so, because the Lord God omnipotent, who is the Lord God of the Church, has promised that so it shall be; and His promise is an unchangeable law" (in Amos, Col. 358).

69. The importance attached by the Apostles to truthful doctrine is emphatically declared in their several Epistles. St. Paul writes to the Galatians: "There are some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. But though we or an Angel from Heaven preach a Gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema" (I, 7, 8). And he writes to St. Timothy of some who "have made shipwreck concerning the faith, of whom is Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme" (i. Tim. I, 19, 20). We have seen before what St. John, the beloved Apostle, thought of false doctrines (n. 62).

70. That the successors of the Apostles have always attached the same importance to the truth of doctrine, is manifest by the emphatic language of the Fathers on the subject, and by the unceasing warfare which they carried on against heretics. Origen compares heretics to those who opposed Moses in the desert and were swallowed up alive into hell (Num. XVI): "Core is the type of those who rise up against the faith of the Church" (Hom. IX in Num.). The Church constantly raised her voice to condemn every rising error. Over and over again Councils, general and particular, were assembled to defend the deposit of the faith against rash innovators. The Church never hesitated to cut off from her communion all who pertinaciously refused submission to what had been infallibly decided. She thereby incurred the persecution of the Arian and the Iconoclast Emperors, and at various times lost large tracts of countries that were thus severed from her communion. Arianism at one time was more powerful against her than Protestantism became in later ages; and, like Protestantism, it was able to prolong the contest for several centuries. Yet then, as to-day, the Church never yielded one iota of her doctrine to appease the clamors of her enemies or compromise with the dominant faction.

71. This firm stand of the Church against errors in the faith, and her anathemas against heretics, cannot be attributed to indifference regarding the salvation of souls, nor to narrow-minded bigotry. No greater love of souls can be imagined than that which in all ages has been manifested by the Church in her Saints, her missionaries, her religious orders, her pastors, and even many of her laity. As to bigotry, it is defined as "blind zeal, irrational partiality for a particular creed or party". But the zeal of the Church is neither blind nor irrational. She is only carrying out the precept of her Divine Founder, "If he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican" (Matt. XVIII, 17); she is following in the footsteps of the Apostles (n. 69). Those who teach that, in religious matters, every one should judge for himself are irrational and bigoted when they condemn the belief of others; but whoever believes in "one fold and one shepherd" must look upon schism and heresy as most deplorable evils; and the commissioned guardian of the "one faith" must denounce all who assail its unity.

72. Yet this importance attached to the true doctrine by Christ, by the Apostles, and by their successors throughout all ages, would be unintelligible and unreasonable if we had no certain means of knowing what the true doctrine is. Now we cannot have such means unless the Church be endowed with infallibility in her teaching (n. 99). Therefore she must be infallible. For no one can pretend that the Scriptures are so clear as to decide all doubts concerning the faith, even on mattters of the gravest importance; for instance, on the necessity of Baptism for infants, or on the meaning of the words, Amen, amen, I say to you; Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of man, and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you" (Jo. VI, 54). And who is to decide for certain what is and what is not of importance? Is every one to judge for himself? If so, why the words of St. Peter warning us that in the Epistles of St. Paul there are "certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Pet. III, 16)? The fact is, those who pretend to draw their faith from the Scriptures are divided into more than three hundred sects, and in each sect there is much difference of opinion; some members of the English Church call that holy which others in the same Church call an abomination. All this shows that the Scriptures are not sufficient to guarantee the truth of doctrine. Some Protestants suppose that the Holy Ghost teaches each pious reader of the Bible the true meaning of the inspired pages. If this were so, not two such readers would disagree; their faith would be concordant, which is not the case.

Besides, we have shown most clearly that the provision made by Christ for the perpetuity of His true doctrine is the institution of His Church (nn. 44-46). Therefore she must teach without error. Let us briefly sum up the proofs of her infallibility.

1. God could not bid us hear the Church if she could decide against the truth; and yet He bids us hear her (Matt. XVIII, 17).

2. He could not condemn a man for refusing to believe a false doctrine; and yet He says, "He that believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark XVI, 16). Therefore the doctrine which we are to believe cannot be false. 66 The Work to be done by the Church.

3. Christ promised to be with His Church till the end of time. Now this expression "to be with" occurs in ninety places in the Scriptures, and uniformly means "to give success;" but for a teaching body to err in doctrine would not be success but failure.

4. The Spirit of truth is to teach her all the truth and to abide with her forever (Jo. XIV, 16; XVI, 13).

5. "The gates of hell shall not prevail against her" (Matt. XVI, 18). If she erred, the gates of hell would prevail.

6. St. Paul calls her, "The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth" (1. Tim. III, 15).

7. The Church has claimed infallibility from the beginning; for the Council of Jerusalem issued its decree as proceeding from the Holy Spirit: "It has seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us" (Acts XV, 23). Nor should it be supposed that this claim was made in the name of the Apostles only; for it is distinctly stated that the decree proceeded from the Apostles and the "Ancients" (presbuteroi), which name designated the bishops and priests.

8. It has ever been the practice of the Church to separate from her communion all who refused to believe her doctrine; and this separation has always been considered as the greatest evil, so that St. Augustine said: "A Christian ought to fear nothing so much as to be separated from the Church of Christ; for if he be separated from the Church of Christ, he is not a member of Christ." All this certainly supposes that the Church cannot teach a false doctrine, and this is meant by saying she is infallible (n. 99).

73. From the preceding arguments it logically follows that there rests upon every one a strict obligation to be a member of the Church; so that any one who refuses to comply with this duty thereby puts himself out of the way of salvation. St. Augustine, speaking of the Catholic Church, says: "This Church is the body of Christ, as the Apostle says, 'For His body, which is the Church'. Whence assuredly it is manifest, that he who is not in the members of Christ cannot have Christian salvation" (De Un. Ecc. n. 2). This is in fact the centre of all controversy between Catholics and non-Catholics, as it was between St. Augustine and the Donatists of his day. The truth is usually expressed in these words: "Out of the Church there is no salvation". The meaning is: 1. That Christ has committed to His Church the dispensation of the ordinary means of sanctification, chiefly true doctrine and the holy Sacraments; 2. That He requires of every one to be a member of His Church; so that, if any one, knowing this obligation, refuses to comply with it, he puts himself out of the way of salvation; 3. That the same holds of any one who suspects the existence of such duty and neglects to examine properly into a matter of so great importance.

Now all this is demonstrated by our whole line of argument. For we have proved that Christ established His Church as a permanent body of teachers (nn. 44-46), who should teach in His name and command with His power, and whom all should be bound to believe, under penalty of condemnation. His words are clear: "All power is given to me in Heaven and on 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 whatsoever I have commanded you; and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt., last lines); "He that believeth not shall be condemned" or, as the Protestant version has it, "shall be damned" (Mark XVI, 16).

Therefore, when St. Peter had preached his first sermon after the descent of the Holy Ghost, and "they that heard these things had compunction in their hearts, and said to Peter and to the rest of the Apostles, 'What shall we do, men brethren?' Peter said to them, 'Do penance and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins.' -- They therefore that received his word were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls, and they were persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles" (Acts II, 37-42). These converts then by being baptized became members of the Church, and, having once become members, "they persevered in the doctrine of the Apostles". If any of them had refused to become members of the Church, or if, after becoming such, they had subsequently rejected the doctrine of the Apostles, it is clear that they would have incurred the sentence of Christ, "He that believeth not shall be condemned."

It must be so in all ages; for the teaching body was to be permanent; else how could Christ be with it till the consummation of the world? Or how could the Holy Spirit abide with it forever? Therefore, there is to-day an obligation for all men to be members of the Church. We can certainly apply to the teaching body instituted by Christ the words which He addressed to the seventy-two disciples when He sent them on their temporary mission: "He that heareth you heareth Me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me" (Luke X, 16). Therefore, St. Cyprian wrote that no one can have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother (De Un. Ec. n. 6).

It does not follow however from these arguments that all who die out of the visible communion, or body of the Church, are certainly lost. If it is impossible for a person to join the Church, or if he is invincibly ignorant of this duty, he is excused from sin in this matter. If a doubt as to his duty arise in his mind, he is bound to use as much diligence to clear it up, as he would use if some very weighty temporal interest of his own were concerned. He should also pray earnestly and perseveringly for Divine guidance in a matter of such importance. But as long as he is really unable to remove this doubt, so that he cannot see that it would be prudent for him to join the Church, he is not to blame. Still his separation from its visible communion is a grievous misfortune; for it deprives him of the Sacraments, and of other means of sharing in the live-giving influence of Christ. If he is to attain salvation without being a visible member of the Church, he does so by virtue of an invisible membership; for, as Pius IX. declared (Denz. 1504, 1529), God does not inflict eternal punishment but for wilful fault and yet, as the Fourth Lateran Council puts it, "Out of the Church no man can be saved" (Denz. 35).

The so-called Reformation of the 16th century was a formal refusal any longer to submit to the infallible teaching of any living authority on earth, together with an emphatic assertion that the Church had, for more than a thousand years, proved unfaithful to her Divine mission, and had taught as true and holy all sorts of false doctrines and abominable practices. If so, the gates of hell had prevailed against the Church of Christ. The Reformers did not generally claim to have received a commission from Heaven to remove these corruptions and restore religion to its pristine purity. Such a pretense would have made it necessary for them to exhibit, as credentials of their Divine mission, the usual signs of miracles and prophecies; and they had none to show. In fact Protestants ignore all miraculous exhibition of God's workings in His Church, and His explicit promise: "These signs shall follow them that believe: In My name they shall cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues, they shall take up serpents -- they shall lay their hands on the sick and they shall recover -- But they going forth, preached everywhere, the Lord working withal and confirming the word with signs that followed" (Mark, last lines). Miracles have continued in the Church from that time till now; but the Reformers rejected all belief in them; they felt that a religion thus honored by Heaven could not be corrupt.

76. The whole strength of the Reformers lay in assailing the vices and weaknesses of many persons in the Church, and attacking various abuses, which worldly men, and especially tyrannical princes, had fostered among her ministers. When the Fathers and all Tradition were found to support her doctrines, they cast aside all regard for the Fathers and Tradition, and fell back on the Scriptures alone. Nor could they give to the Scriptures the traditional interpretation without defeating their own purposes; they were thus driven to the necessity of proclaiming a new rule of faith, "The Bible alone, interpreted according to the private judgment of every reader." Even the very letter of the Scripture had to be accommodated to the new doctrine. Thus Luther, finding that the Epistle of St. James insisted forcibly on the necessity of good works for salvation, rejected the document, calling it contemptuously "an Epistle of straw"; and to enforce his novel tenet, that we are saved by faith only, without good works. he boldly inserted the word "only" into St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (III, 28; n. 52).

77. That the Church, with which Christ had promised to remain till the end of time, should have become a mass of corruption, is so evidently impossible, that many Protestants reject this charge, and adopt another theory. They pretend that the visible Church had indeed been corrupted, but that the Church of Christ is invisible, consisting of all those who are in the state of grace; and therefore it is always holy. But the theory of an invisible Church is untenable. For how could we obey the command of Christ to "hear the Church," if the Church were not made manifest to us? (Matt. XVIII, 17). Such is not the provision that Christ has made for the perpetuity of His religion (nn. 43-46); this theory is against the whole current of the Apostolic Tradition. How could an invisible Church hold Councils, and solemnly enact doctrinal and moral decrees? (Acts, XV). Even the Old Testament had a visible Church, in figure of what was to be in the New; and it predicted the enlargement of this type by comparing the future Church to a city upon a mountain into which all nations should flow (Is. II, 2). Christ too applied to His Apostles the images of a city upon a mountain, and of a light that is not put under a bushel (Matt. V, 14, 15). St. Chrysostom writes: "It is an easier thing for the Sun to be quenched than for the Church to be invisible" (In Oziam, Hom. 4, n. 2).

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