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

The Marks of the Church.

78. If all men are obliged to enter into the Church of Christ, as we have proved they are (n. 73), it is evident that the Saviour must have provided some signs, notes, or marks, by which His Church can readily and unmistakably become known to all earnest inquirers; for He could not impose a duty upon men without giving them the means necessary to fulfil it. What these marks are, it is not for any man arbitrarily to determine. That they may be obvious and unmistakable, they must shine forth from the Church into the eyes of the world at large, and be such as can belong to no other than the Church of Christ. As Cardinal Newman expresses it: "These notes are, as anyone knows who has looked into the subject, certain great and simple characteristics which He who founded the Church has stamped upon her, in order to draw both the reason and the imagination of men to her as being really a Divine work, and a religion distinct from all other religious communities" (Apol., Apend., VI). The principal notes of this kind are expressed in the Nicene Creed "I believe in -- the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church." Since by these notes the most important matter on earth, the way of salvation, is to be determined, we shall make them the subject of most careful study.


79. That Christ intended His Church to be One, is evident from His own words: "Other sheep I have that are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd" (Jo. N, 16). He teaches the same truth in all the figures that He applies to His Church, as of a kingdom, a city, a household, an edifice that he is to build on a rock, a body, etc. St. Paul describes it as an organized body of which Christ is the Head: "From whom the whole body, being compactly and fitly joined together, by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation of the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity" (Ephes. IV, 16).

80. But not only is this unity thus clearly affirmed in Holy Scripture, it flows besides from the very nature of the Church of Christ. For we have seen that He instituted it as an assembly governed by the Twelve Apostles, who are uniformly presented as acting together, ruling and teaching as one body (nn. 43, 44). Thus the mark of unity is not something superadded to the Church, like a badge or mark of honor; but it is a quality with which she is born, which results from the very mission that gave her existence. Such qualities flowing from the very natures of things, philosophers name "attributes," and it will be seen that all the marks of the Church are such attributes, or qualities inseparable from her essence.

81. Since this note of unity is so efficient a means to discover the true Church of Christ, we add here some further arguments to prove the necessity of this mark. 1. Christ Himself prayed for this unity, and He pointed to its existence among His followers as a proof of His mission from His Heavenly Father. For at the last Supper, after praying for His Apostles, He added: "And not for them alone do I pray, but for those also who through their word shall believe in Me, that they may all be one, as Thou, O Father, in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (Jo. XVII, 20, 21). 2. The Martyr St. Cyprian, in the third century, wrote as follows: "This is, my brother, and ought to be, our special study, to seek to secure, as far as in us lies, the unity delivered by the Lord, and through the Apostles to us, (their) successors; and as far as we are able, to gather into the Church the straying and wandering sheep, which the perverse factiousness and heretical efforts of certain persons have separated from the Mother, . . . men who will have to give an account to God of the rupture and separation caused by them, and of their abandonment of the Church" (Ep. XLII ad Corn.). Elsewhere he says: "God is one, and Christ one, and the Church one, and the chair one founded by the Lord's word upon a rock (others read 'upon Peter'). -- Whosoever gathereth elsewhere scattereth. It is adulterous, it is impious, it is sacrilegious, whatsoever by human frenzy is instituted so as to violate a Divine arrangement" (Ep. XL ad Pleb.). Again: "As if there were to be no end of their frantic audacity, they are here too endeavoring to draw the members of Christ into their schismatical party, and to divide and mangle the body of the Catholic Church" (Ep. XLI ad Corn.).

82. The unity of the Church may be expected to exhibit itself in various ways, chiefly in her one faith, one government, one worship, and in the charity uniting all of her members. All this St. Paul expresses when he writes to the Ephesians: "Careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; one body and one Spirit, as you are called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one Baptism" (IV, 3-5).

And first, the Church is one in her faith; for we have proved that she is infallible in her teaching (xi. 72); therefore her doctrine is necessarily one and the same at all times and in all places; though, as we have seen (n. 66), it may be more fully and definitely stated, as occasions may call for more copious explanations or more strict definitions. St. Irenaeus, about A. D. 166, wrote that the faith of the whole Church is one and the same throughout the world (Adv. Haer. I, 10), and all the Fathers agree with him. That membership of the Church is consistent with differences in faith was unheard of before the rise of Protestantism.

83. Secondly, the Church is one in her government. Christ instituted His Church as an assembly (n. 67) . His words did not refer to an accidental but to an organized gathering of men, and a permanent institution, signified by its resting on a rock. It was to be governed by appointed officers, who were to direct the members how to attain eternal happiness by the use of common means, teaching them to observe all that Christ had commanded them (Matt., last verse). Such an assembly is technically called "a society," which is defined to be "a union of persons for the purpose of obtaining a common end by common means". In it the Apostles and their successors were to be the governing and teaching body, ever acting in union with one another (xi. 44). The figures applied to the Church, of a kingdom, a fold, a city, all imply one government.

This unity of government is violated by schism, that is, by a portion of the members separating themselves from the society, refusing to submit any longer to its government. St. Irenaeus writes: "They that cause schism hew and rend the great and glorious Body of Christ, and, so far as in them lies, put Him to death" (Adv. Haer. IV, 33). St. Cyprian says: "If one is separate from the Church, turn from him, shun him he is perverse and in sin, and stands self-condemned" (De Un. Ec., n. 17). A schism is formal if the principle itself of submission is rejected. Such is the Eastern schism, which began with Photius, about A. D. 880. At least since the definition of Papal infallibility, the Greeks are not only schismatics but heretics as well. What is called the Great Western Schism began in 1378, when there were two claimants for the Papacy, each of whom had a large following and a line of successors. But in 1417 Martin V. was chosen Pope in the Council of Constance, and recognized by all parties, with an insignificant exception. This schism was only material, not formal; for though there was great practical difficulty in recognizing the rightful claimant, the principle of obedience to the legitimate Pontiff was not denied.

84. Thirdly, the Church is one in her worship; for this is regulated by the one doctrine and the one government, which direct the use of the same Sacrifice, the same Sacraments, and in general the same means of sanctification. These must ever remain the same. For Christ bade the Church to observe all He had commanded (Matt., last verse). There may be diversities in special details to suit varying times and circumstances; these belong to discipline, not to doctrine.

85. Fourthly, the unity of charity was pointed out by Christ Himself as a note of His Church, when He said "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love one for another" (Jo. XIII, 35). This unity, together with the intercommunion of the local churches with one another, was provided for in the early ages by two remarkable institutions, the Diptychs and Commendatory Letters. Diptychs, or folding tablets, were used in every church, and contained the names of those persons with whom the priest specially professed to be in spiritual communion. These included the Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant portions of the Church, the names of the Pope and the Bishop, the Emperors, Martyrs, benefactors, etc.; also the Great Councils, to show that unity of faith and worship went together. The Commendatory Letters are referred to in Scripture, where it is stated that the opponents of St. Paul at Corinth objected that he had brought no "epistles of commendation" (2 Cor. III, 1). Tertullian tells us that all the many churches were bound together by the exchange of "peace", -- perhaps the kiss of peace, -- and by the name of "brother," and by the tokens securing hospitality (De Praesc. 20). St. Augustine says that the "Letters" were an easy means of settling the question of communion (Ep. 44, 3).

86. While a schism is opposed to the unity of government and of charity, what is called "the Branch theory" is destructive of every manner of unity. This theory holds that the English Established Church, the Church in communion with the Roman See, and the various bodies of Christians that make up the Greek Church, are so many branches of the one Catholic Church; the theorists profess readiness to submit to any pronouncement of the united Church. But it is evident that such an agglomeration as this is not conspicuous for unity, but rather for the absence of unity, both in government and in charity or intercommunion. This is supported by the fact that no Catholic priest would admit an Anglican to Holy Communion. Nor would there be unity of faith, for instance regarding the teachings of the Councils of Trent and the Vatican; nor union in worship, since, to take one example, the Holy Mass would be pronounced by Catholics to be most sacred, and by the Thirty-nine Articles to be an abomination.


87. Holiness, or sanctity, is nearness to God; thus an altar is holy, because dedicated to God; a day is holy if devoted to the worship of God; a man is holy if he is united to God by charity, and free from whatever separates the soul from God. The Church is holy in her Founder, the Fountain of all holiness; in her purpose to lead men to God; in her means of sanctification, the principal of which are her doctrines and her Sacraments. In the Acts of the Apostles the word "saint" is used as an equivalent for 'Christian', because a member of the Body of Christ is, or ought to be, holy.

In many of her members the Church produces heroic virtue, that is, virtue of superhuman excellence; for the ancients gave the name of "hero" (hêros) to those men whose great achievements were held to prove that they were children of the gods. This kind of virtue the Church requires in those whom she "canonizes", or enrolls on the public list of her Saints. Theologians call virtue "heroic" when it rises conspicuously above common virtue. We say that in the Church there will always be men of heroic virtue, as they will show from time to time by acts which surpass the ordinary standard; as in an army there are often those who never fail in their duty to face the enemy, and who manifest their virtue by conspicuous acts of valor.

88. That the Church must be holy in her members is proved by many passages of Scripture. Isaias says: "It shall be heard in the ends of the earth that the Saviour cometh; and they shall call them the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord" (LXII, 11, 12). And St. Paul writes, "To all the saints that are at Ephesus," saying that God had chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and unspotted in His sight in charity (I, 14). St. Irenaeus, in whose work "Against Heresy", written in the second century, the whole doctrine on the Church is to be found, says: "Where is the Church, there is the Spirit of God; and where is the Spirit of God, there is the Church and all grace" (L. III, C. 24). While the success promised to the Church is the sanctification of souls, and "it is well to be an abject in the house of the Lord rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners" (Ps. 80); yet the faithful observance of her precepts would also advance the true good of man in temporal respects. To answer objections against the holiness of the Church, we must remember that an institution is to be judged by the effects of its action on those members who are imbued with its spirit, not on those who are impervious to its influence.

89. The sanctity of the Church is likewise strikingly exhibited by the credentials of Divine messengers, miracles and prophecies (nn. 11-16). These sometimes attest the sanctity of men still living or already dead, sometimes the truth of doctrine. That Christ promised this power to His followers is evident; for He said: "He that believeth in Me, the works that I do he also shall do, and greater than these he shall do" (Jo. XIV, 12); again: "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, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands on the sick and they shall recover" (Mark XVI, 17). In the Acts of the Apostles we read of many occasions when the preaching was confirmed by miracles (for instance, III; V, 12-16; XIV, 9; etc.). Similar events have occurred in all ages of the Church's history; the Acts of the Early Martyrs are full of them they have ever been a powerful means to propagate the religion in pagan lands (n. 13), and they are frequent in our own times; for instance, at Lourdes, in France where any one who wishes can verify the facts.

90. The Catholicity of the Church (kata through, holos = whole), when the word is taken in its widest sense, means her existence in all places and all ages, and her preaching of Christ's doctrines in their entirety. That Christ intended all this, is clear from His own words: "Preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark. XVI, 15), "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" (Matt., last verse).

As a mark of the Church, Catholicity denotes her conspicuous diffusion everywhere, In the second century St. Ignatius wrote that wherever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church (Ep. ad Smyrn. 8); and the Church of Smyrna addressed a letter to all the parishes of "the Holy Catholic Church in every place" (De Mart. S. Pol.). Already in the same century St. Justin and Tertullian had described the universal diffusion of the Church (n. 32). St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, wrote in the fourth century: "If ever thou art sojourning in any city, inquire not simply where the Lord's house is (for the sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where is the Church, but where is the Catholic Church; for this is the peculiar name of this holy Church and mother of us all" (Cat. 18, n. 26). And St. Augustine: "Many things detain me in the bosom of the Catholic Church. . . The name itself of "the Catholic Church" keeps me, a name which, in the midst of so many heresies, this Church alone has, not without cause, so held possession of that, while all heretics would fain have themselves called Catholics, yet to the inquiry of any stranger, 'where is the meeting of the Catholic Church held,' no heretic would dare to point out his own basilica or house" (Con. Ep. Fund. C. 4).

91. The fourth mark of the Church is her Apostolicity. This term designates the fact that her governing and teaching body to-day and throughout all ages is nothing else than the continuation of the Apostolic body to which Christ gave His mission, and with which He promised to remain till the end of time, saying: "Go therefore, teach all nations, . . . and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt., last verse).

Those teachers and rulers of religious organizations who do not truly derive their Orders and also their mission from the Apostolic body, cannot rightly claim to be sent by Christ, or to have the promise of His assistance for their ministry. This union, or identity, with the Apostolic body is the mark of the true Church that is called "Apostolicity". Hence all sects that are cut off from the living Church have no title to Apostolicity; and since the head of the Church is the Bishop of Rome because he is the successor of St. Peter, whosoever is not in communion with that See cannot possess union with St. Peter and the Apostolic body. This doctrine was explained by Tertullian in the second century; he says: "Let them (the heresies) produce the origin of their Churches, let them unfold the lists of their Bishops, descending by successions from the beginning in such a way that their first Bishop had, as his author and predecessor, one of the Apostles or Apostolic men, who however persevered with the Apostles" (De Praesc. C. 32).


92. We have proved that it is every one's strict duty to join the Church which Christ had founded (n. 72); and that this Church is to be known by the four marks just explained: we must therefore in the next place inquire which community of professed followers of Christ exhibits all four of these conspicuous marks.

We may classify such communities as follows: 1. That which acknowledges the Roman Pontiff as the Vicar of Christ; 2. The several communities that are collectively known as the Greek Church; 3. Those Protestant communities which have officers corresponding to our Bishops, and which therefore may be called Prelatic. These are chiefly the Established Church of England with its offshoots, and Lutheran bodies in Sweden and Denmark with their offshoots; 4. The rest of the Protestant Sects, which we shall call Unprelatic.

I. Now the Unprelatic sects do not possess these marks. 1. They agree in not acknowledging any objective principle of unity; they vary in faith, worship, and government. 2. Though many of their members no doubt lead good lives according to their imperfect lights, few claim heroism or miracles, and their doctrines of faith or justification do not tend to produce holiness. Of course the exceptional virtue of a few would not be a mark of the holiness of their sect. 3. Certainly these sects are not Catholic, except in excluding no error, as St. Leo said of pagan Rome. 4. Nor are they Apostolic, since none of them date back farther than the sixteenth century. (For the Protestant sects see Appendix, no. 361.)

II. Of the Prelatic sects the Eastern, besides other obvious defects, are evidently without Catholicity. The Protestant sects are far more destitute of the required notes than they. In particular, the Church of England, with its branches, 1. Has no real unity of faith, there being no authority to decide, while there are within it many varieties of opinions on matters generally acknowledged to be of vital importance. Nor has it unity of worship, since the Lord's Supper is with some of its members a mere commemoration, with others the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ. Nor has it unity of government, since the Bishops acknowledge no spiritual superior, and large sections of the clergy and laity openly defy the authority of the Bishops. 2. With regard to sanctity, the same may be said of the Prelatic as of the Unprelatic sects; heroic sanctity and miracles are not even claimed. 3. The Prelatic sects are not Catholic, but confined to certain races; one section of the English Church claims to rank with Rome and the Eastern Churches as a branch of the universal Church; but its adherents have not the same faith that Rome has, since they reject the Pope's infallibility. Neither have they the same government, nor unity of worship, since no Catholic priest would admit an Anglican to holy Communion, and Rome would pay no regard to testimonials given by Anglican Bishops. 4. Apostoticity is wanting to the Anglican Church, owing to its separation from the Roman See (n. 91). Not only are its Orders invalid since the introduction of the Edwardine Ordinal (n. 270); but its mission was broken, when the Archbishop of Canterbury, by whom its Bishops are confirmed, ceased to derive his jurisdiction from Rome, whence he formerly used to obtain it. Whatever mission he has now, he derives from the secular power, and this is the only mission, if any, which he can transmit to others. When St. Paul wrote, How shall they preach unless they be sent" (Rom. X, 15), he certainly did not mean "sent by the Crown or by Parliament". (See Appendix, 110. 361, IV.)

93. The Catholic Church -- called Roman, because governed by the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter, -- has all the four marks. 1. She has (a) Unity of faith, because she recognizes an infallible authority, and excludes from her communion all who refuse to hear it; (b) Unity of worship, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, offered, though in various rites, by priests who are in communion with one another, and who mention in the canon of the Mass the Pope and their Bishop in communion with the Pope. (c) Thus she has also Unity of Charity or intercommunion. (d) Communion with Rome secures Unity of government: the Bishops receive directions from Rome, pay visits at stated intervals to the "threshold of the Apostle", and then render an account of the state of their dioceses.

2. That the Church in communion with Rome is Catholic, will scarcely be questioned. She has penetrated everywhere; and in all lands she has produced true Christian virtue, which has often been exhibited in the heroic lives and glorious Martyrdoms of her new children. Many instances of this have occurred in our own age in Corea, China, Indo-China, etc.

3. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in each generation receives its Apostolic succession from the generation that went before, from the Apostles to the present Pope and Bishops.

4. The sanctity of the Catholic Church is strikingly exhibited in the high standard of virtue which she upholds, not in theory only, but also in practice. In particular it is conspicuous in the celibacy of her clergy; in the evangelical counsels practised by her numerous religious; in the zeal of her missionaries; in the gratuitous charity of those devoted to the care of the poor, the orphan, the sick, the aged, and all classes of the afflicted; also in the heroic and exemplary lives of very many, not of her canonized Saints only, but of the common ranks of her clergy and laity. Her sanctity is, besides, visibly approved by God Himself in the ever recurring miracles, worked to sanction her doctrines and her devotional practices, or to testify to the holiness of those whom she enrolls in the list of her Saints and Blessed. All can see proofs of her sanctity in the fertility of her labors for the propagation of Christianity, while the various Protestant sects have been barren of supernatural fruit, as is so abundantly shown in Marshall's book on "Christian Missions". The Sandwich Islands used to be quoted as an almost solitary exception to the general sterility of the sects; now that the fruit has been matured by time, they are a byword of reproach to Protestant evangelization. On the American continent, all the Indian tribes that have fallen under Catholic influence have been christianized and partly civilized; all under non-Catholic influence have been demoralized and well-nigh exterminated. All the success of Protestant missions can be attributed to natural causes. True, the doctrines of the Catholic Church are often held up to reproach; but it is because they have been grossly misrepresented by her enemies; no one who has learned them from her own teachings and practices has found in them anything that is not admirable. Therefore her opponents have now begun to imitate what they formerly condemned in her. The superiority of Catholic over Protestant influence on the real happiness of nations is fully demonstrated in Balmes' "Catholicity and Protestantism Compared in their Effects on the Civilization of Europe"; while Young's "Protestant and Catholic Countries Compared" vindicates the more genuine happiness and more pure morality of the latter over the former. Objections taken from history will be found triumphantly refuted in the learned "Miscellanea" of Archbishop Spalding, and in many other similar publications.

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