Skip to comments.One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: The Marks of Christ's Church [Ecumenical]
Posted on 08/25/2008 9:46:14 AM PDT by Salvation
One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: The Marks of Christ's Church
Issue: What are the four marks of the Church?
Response: The four marks of the Church are an important element of the Catholic faith, dating back to the earliest ecumenical councils in Church history (Nicea in 325 and First Constantinople in 381). In the Nicene Creed we profess one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Those four adjectives for the Churchone, holy, catholic, and apostolicare what we call the four marks of the Church.
Discussion: The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the four marks of the Church in its treatment of the Creed. The Catechism begins its discussion in the following manner:
This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, indicate essential features of the Church and her mission. The Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities (no. 811).
The marks of the Church simply are fundamental, distinctive features by which the Church founded by Christ can be recognized. Only faith can recognize that the Church received these features or characteristics from God, but certainly their historical manifestations are signs that speak to human reason. For example, we believe by faith that the pope is the successor of St. Peter and that bishops are true successors of the apostles. Yet our ability to historically trace apostolic succession back to the time of Christ is itself strong evidence that bolsters and supports our beliefs.
Our profession of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church was not only affirmed in the first Church councils, but reaffirmed at the Council of Trent in the 16th century. In the 19th century, the Vatican Holy Office reiterated this teaching, writing:
The true Church of Jesus Christ was established by divine authority, and is known by a fourfold mark, which we assert in the Creed must be believed; and each one of these marks so clings to the others that it cannot be separated from them; hence it happens that that Church which truly is, and is called Catholic should at the same time shine with the prerogatives of unity, sanctity, and apostolic succession.
Moving to the present, the Catechism devotes an entire sectionparagraphs 811-70to the four marks of the Church.
We profess one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church because we believe that God in His goodness bestowed these blessings on His Church, which He has given us as the instrument of salvation for the whole world. So when we say that we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, or we believe in Marys Immaculate Conception, or we believe in seven sacraments, we understand that all our beliefs are inseparably tied to our belief in God the Holy Trinity, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, and who calls us to communion with Him.
Still the One
The first mark is our belief in one Church, or the Churchs unity. This truly is a difficult mark to grasp today, in the face of centuries-old divisions and the existence of tens of thousands of Christian denominations.
Unity is an attribute of God. God is one. Christ is one with His Father and fervently prayed that His disciples would fully experience this unity. Unity in the family, unity in the Church, and unity in all social structures are all reflections of Gods unity; the disunity we encounter reminds us of the lingering effects of sin in our lives and in the world. Unity requires obedience to lawful authority, and all authority comes from God. Those to whom God has entrusted authority are to exercise their authority for the sake of unity. In fact, Vatican II emphasizes that individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches (cf. Catechism, nos. 886, 938).
Further, unity is not necessarily sameness. The Trinity has three distinct Persons without compromising the unity of the Godhead. Similarly, man and woman are different, yet their complementarity allows them to come together as one through the Sacrament of Marriage. And in the Church there are many roles and gifts that help build up the one Body of Christ.
The Church teaches that there are three visible bonds of unity in the Church:
(1) profession of one faith received from the apostles;
(2) common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments; and
(3) apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining
the fraternal concord of Gods family (Catechism, no. 815).
Catholics share a common belief, worship, and Church governance. Above all, charity, as St. Paul writes in Colossians 3:14, binds everything together in perfect harmony.
But there is such a proliferation of Christian denominations and beliefs, how can we say the Church is one? We need to make an important distinction here. We do believe in one Church, and in fact the Church is one. However, Christians are divided and are still striving for the unity that Christ wills for His followers when He prays in John 17:20-21: I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
So we dont pray for the unity of the Church, but we fervently pray for the unity of all Christians (even of all Catholics!). Vatican II and our Holy Father have made ecumenism, or the quest for Christian unity, a real priority in our time. The division among believers is a cause of scandal and hinders the Church in her mission of bringing Christ to the world.
The one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with them. The profound reality of our membership in the Catholic Church is a blessing and gift. More has been given us, so more is expected of us. Vatican II makes it abundantly clear that Catholics who dont persevere in charity cannot be saved (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 14). This should rule out any and all condescension or arrogance toward those who do not possess the fullness of the faith.
As Catholics we have to uphold both the truth and the desire for unity. Denial of a truth of faith is heresy, and a breach of Church unity is schism. These are not popular or pleasant terms, but as St. Thomas More said, these arent pleasant things. We have to resist heresy or falsehood as well as divisiveness or schism to be loyal sons and daughters of the Church.
Those churches and Christian communities that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church nonetheless possess elements of sanctification and truth. These elements, such as love of Christ, devotion to Scripture, Baptism, and other fundamental beliefs and practices impel us toward full communion, and the Church also teaches us that our fidelity to that portion of the Gospel that weve received from Christ will be the basis of our salvation. In other words, while the fullness of the means of salvation is found in the Catholic Church, the Holy Spirit indeed uses other Christian communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church (cf. Catechism, no. 819).
Catechism, no. 821 provides a number of ways to promote unity among Christians, which of course begins with our own deepened conversion to Christ and prayer for unity, as well as fraternal dialogue and cooperation, such as in pro-life activities.
Ephesians 4 is one of the usual scriptural references in support of the oneness or unity of the Church. In verses 4-6, St. Paul refers to one Body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.
But lets look at the verses that immediately precede St. Pauls emphatic affirmation of the oneness of our faith. He writes: I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3). This is an examination of conscience for all of us; our faith calls us to live true humility, meekness, patience, self-sacrificing love, and peace. When we live this waywhich is our calling as Christianswe truly are building Christian unity.
Saints and Sinners
The holiness of the Church may even be more difficult to understand and accept at first blush than the Churchs unity. After all, the Church is composed of frail, weak, sinful human beings, yet Catholics have the gall to say the Church is holy. The truth is that were able to make such a bold statement only because individually and as a Church we have Christ in us, transforming us, healing us, reconciling us to the Father.
As a holy people, we have been consecrated and set apart by God. As St. Peter writes, you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Gods own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). The Church is the bride of Christ, for whom Christ died. According to St. Paul, in laying down His life for His bride, Christ sanctified and cleansed His Church, making her holy and without blemish. We talk about being part of the communion of saints through Baptism, and saint is just another word for holy one. We dont often think of ourselves as saints. But the truth of the matter is that, if were to enjoy eternal life in heaven, we need to become saints.
The reason we dont typically think of ourselves as saints is that we recognize were works in progress. We still havent rooted all sin out of our lives. This reality of sin and grace is beautifully reflected in the ancient Marian hymn Alma Redemptoris Mater, or Loving Mother of the Redeemer, in which we ask Our Lady to assist us who have fallen yet strive to rise again. This falling and rising, this battle of sin and grace, continues in the Church and in each of us individually.
Vatican II drives home this point: Christ, holy, innocent, and undefiled, knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people. The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal (Catechism, no. 827, Lumen Gentium, no. 8). We dont join the Church because were saints, but because we want the Church to help us sinners become saints. We are all in need of the divine Physician, who calls people who realize theyre sinful and in need of grace.
The Churchs holiness is found in various ways. Our beliefs are holy, and so we speak of the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition. The holiness of the Churchs Magisterium as an authoritative teaching office is reflected in the title we use for the pope. Hes our Holy Father, through whom God ensures that our faith bears the fruit of holiness from generation to generation. The Church is holy in her worship and sacraments. For example, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, even if celebrated by a priest living in sin, is still the Holy Eucharist, which brings us the fruits of holiness. Even the government of the Church reflects a certain holiness. The word hierarchy, which to some today might have negative connotations, actually means sacred power.
And holiness is found in the Churchs members. The Church canonizes men and women through the centuries who have faithfully and heroically responded to the call to holiness and who now enjoy eternal life in heaven. Many of them died for our holy faith. They are held up for us as models and intercessors in our own journeys of faith. And chief among these, of course, is our spiritual mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
One of the real emphases of the Second Vatican Council as well as the apostolate of Catholics United for the Faith has been the truth that all of uswithout exceptionare called to holiness. Holiness doesnt happen automatically or by accident. Rather we must cooperate with Gods grace and strive for charity in all things. Prayer, sacraments, acts of penance and charity, and good spiritual reading are all vital to a healthy spiritual life. We must strive to see in all things an opportunity to grow in holiness. This cant happen unless we embrace the present moment and gratefully accept whatever comes our way as an opportunity to grow in love of God and neighbor.
Here Comes Everybody
Todays Catholics are called to be leaven in the new millennium. This is a tremendous challenge, as the richness of our Catholic faith isnt reducible to mere sound bites, and timeless Christian wisdom is often portrayed today as simply one voice among many or as the spin of the religious right. This all points to the ongoing need for prudent inculturation, which is the process of adapting the Gospel without diluting or disfiguring itfor new cultures and generations. Rather than withdraw into a secure Catholic ghetto, were called by our Holy Father to be an evangelizing presence in the world, allowing Gods grace to transform a generation that at times seem to be lost in cyberspace.
The Catechism provides an excellent exposition of the catholicity of the Church. The Church is catholic or universal, both because she has already received from Christ the fullness of salvation (cf. Eph. 1:22-23), and because she has been entrusted with the mission of bringing the Gospel to the entire human race.
Regarding the Churchs missionary nature, the Catechism devotes an important paragraph to inculturation, worth quoting in full:
By her very mission, the Church travels the same journey as all humanity and shares the same earthly lot with the world: she is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God. Missionary endeavor requires patience. It begins with the proclamation of the Gospel to peoples and groups who do not yet believe in Christ, continues with the establishment of Christian communities that are a sign of Gods presence in the world, and leads to the foundation of local churches. It must involve a process of inculturation if the Gospel is to take flesh in each peoples culture. There will be times of defeat. With regard to individuals, groups, and peoples it is only by degrees that [the Church] touches and penetrates them, and so receives them into a fullness which is Catholic (no. 854).
This incarnational, sacramental dimension of the new evangelization requires profound respect for other peoples, cultures, and generations, and absolute fidelity to the Person and teaching of Jesus Christ. Its not an either-or proposition. The Church calls us to build on the truths we already have in common with others while patiently fostering full communion in the Body of Christ. The glass is never only half full or half empty, its both. Dialoguing without ever summoning to conversion is cowardly and weak; summoning to conversion without first connecting with other people is foolhardy and harsh. We need grace and courage to hold these two realities together in our own particular network of relationships.
But, most of us are not missionaries in foreign lands. Our journeys generally lead us to work, the grocery store, or the mall. How do we live the catholicity of the Church?
First, we have to affirm with St. Paul that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for through Christ we all become through Baptism children of God and heirs of heaven. No group of people is excluded from this invitation. For us to look down on or refuse to engage others because of their race, culture, or nationality is an implicit denial of the catholicity of the Church.
Second, the Church is by her nature missionary. She has been sent to make disciples of all peoples. All Catholics are bound to support the missionary efforts of the Church. Material support by way of contribution, clothing, medicine, and the like are all very important. But even more fundamentally, we should regularly pray and offer our daily sufferings for the spread of the Gospel. This spiritual foundation is the engine that powers the Churchs missionary activity.
Third, we must not be ashamed of the fact that all salvation comes from Christ. As Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said: There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved (Acts 4:12). And we further believe that Christ entrusted the fullness of the means of salvation to His Church, so that those who hear the apostles and their successors hear Christ. This does not mean that those who are not Catholic or who are not even Christian cant be saved, for nothing is impossible with God. The Churchs traditional understanding of the maxim outside the Church there is no salvation is treated in Catechism, nos. 846-48.
But if we really do believe what the Church teaches about salvation in and through Christ, shouldnt we use every means at our disposal to let the whole world know about it? This is not to use truth as a club to beat people or as a license to be obnoxious. However, most Catholics probably err on the side of being too soft-spoken in our presentation of the Gospel to others. With St. Paul we must say, woe to us if we dont proclaim the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 9:16).
Sent on a Mission
Finally the Church is apostolic, which is a form of the word apostle that comes from the Greek, meaning one who is sent. The Catechism says that the Church is apostolic because she was founded on the apostles in three ways:
(1) She was and remains built on the foundation of the apostles (Ephesians 2:20), the witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself;
(2) With the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching, the deposit of faith, the salutary words she has heard from the apostles;
(3) She continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christs return through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Churchs supreme pastor (Catechism, no. 857).
Apostolicity or apostolic succession has everything to do with authority. Nobody takes it upon himself or herself to be sent, to be an apostle, but rather it is an authority, a power, a mission given by the One who does the sending.
All authority comes from God the Father, who in the fullness of time sent His Son, Jesus Christ, among us to show us the Father and lead us to salvation. At the end of St. Matthews Gospel, Jesus says as much, indicating that all authority has been given to Him, and then He gives this same authority to His apostles, who are commissioned to go to the end of the worldbaptizing and teaching through the abiding power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
We then read in the remainder of the New Testament, particularly the Acts of the Apostles, about how the apostles father the infant Church over which theyve been given authority. We see individual apostles tending to particular Churches and the apostles collectively and collegially acting on behalf of the Universal Church at the Council of Jerusalem, always with due regard for Peters primacy.
We also see in the New Testament that the apostles are already making provision for the next generation of Church leadership, particularly in the pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus. After all, the Church was instituted to continue to the end of time. So we do have apostles consecrating episkopoi or bishops, such as Timothy and Titus, giving them apostolic authorityand not merely human authorityas ministers of the Gospel. The living Tradition of the Church, the sacred deposit of the faith, is entrusted to each living and breathing bishop in an unbroken line of successionas we hear St. Paul exhort the young Bishop Timothy: Guard O Timothy that sacred deposit that has been entrusted to you (1 Tim. 6:20).
We also have the testimony of the Churchs Apostolic Fathers, such as Pope Clement and Ignatius (3rd bishop of Antioch, disciple of St. John), and of the early Church Fathers, including Ireneaus and Cyprian, among others, who not only attest to the hierarchical nature of the Church, but manifest it in their very ministry (Clement). Church councils through the ages have further clarified the solemn teaching that the office of bishop is of divine origin and bestows apostolic authority and power.
But what does this mean for the 99.9% of Catholics who arent the pope or even a bishop? As Vatican II emphasized, all of us are called to the apostolatethat by virtue of our own Baptism we have been sent to build up the Church, and in that regard laity have the special vocation of engaging the world and directing all things in accordance with Gods will. All have a role to play, but always in communion with the rest of the Body of Christ.
The Churchs apostolic nature does oblige us to remain staunchly loyal to all bishops who are in communion with the pope, particularly ones own bishop. We cannot drive a wedge between the Universal Church, represented by the pope, and the diocesan or particular Church, headed by the bishop. There are only two possibilities: Either were in communion with the pope and his bishops, or were not.
In an address given on November 20, 1999, Pope John Paul II accentuates this point, quoting extensively from Vatican IIs Lumen Gentium:
I likewise point out the attitude that the laity should have toward their bishops and priests: To their pastors they should disclose their needs and desires with that liberty and confidence which befits children of God and brothers of Christ. . . . If the occasion arises, this should be done through the institutions established by the Church for that purpose and always with truth, courage, and prudence and with reverence and charity toward those who, by reason of their office, represent the person of Christ. Unity with the bishop is the essential and indispensable attitude of the faithful Catholic, for one cannot claim to be on the Popes side without also standing by the bishops in communion with him. Nor can one claim to be with the bishop without standing by the head of the college.
Our Church is incarnational, and thus human and divine elements are intimately (yet without confusion) brought together. We see this preeminently in Christ Himself, the eternal Son of God, yet fully human in all things but sin. We see this in the Bible, the inspired, inerrant Word of God, yet at the same time fully the work of diverse human authors. We see this in the Church, which is both the Mystical Body of Christ and at the same time a human institution composed of sinners. And so in bishops we find divine power and authority held in frail human vessels.
Bishops are human beings and consequently are not exempt from the frailties and weaknesses all of us experience in this life. The conduct or teaching of these human vessels may not always be worthy of an apostle of Jesus Christ. Yet we live the apostolicity of the Church by manifesting a filial or childlike piety in all our dealings with bishops and priests by virtue of their office as our spiritual fathers. We absolutely must not accept error, but with patience, fortitude, and charity we always must preserve unity in our pursuit of Christs truth.
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Catechism of the Catholic Church
Vatican II Documents
Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis
Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions
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Hahn and Suprenant, eds., Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God
Leon Suprenant and Philip Gray, Faith Facts: Answers to Catholic Questions
Ted Sri, Mystery of the Kingdom: On the Gospel of Matthew
Leon Suprenant, ed., Servants of the Gospel
Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Without a Doubt: Bringing Faith to Life
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I don’t know why this posted with so much room between the paragraphs. Wasn’t that way in the original.
The Church of the apostles was holy. When we say that the Church is holy, we mean among other things that she had the all-holy God as her author.
The third great historic mark, or note, of the one true Church is that this Church is Catholic. Catholic means "universal." It refers as much to the fullness of the faith she possesses as to the undeniable extension in both time and space that has characterized her virtually from the beginning.
Finally, the Church that issued from the commission of Christ to the apostles was apostolic. Christ founded the Church upon the apostles.
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We confess the Nicene cred in our ELCA Lutheran church. We just don’t capitalize catholic.
OK, well start from there.
the Holy Spirit indeed uses other Christian communities as means of salvation
whose power derives from the fullness of grace that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church
So am I to understand that salvation can come either from the Roman Catholic church or from other Christian communities? And that the salvation from other Christian communities is not full salvation but something less because its not Roman Catholic?
(you)whose power derives from the fullness of grace that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church So am I to understand that salvation can come either from the Roman Catholic church or from other Christian communities? And that the salvation from other Christian communities is not full salvation but something less because its not Roman Catholic?
I wonder if this is really a serious question, since this issue has been addressed many times by a number of very capable Catholics on the FR religion forum. But, on the chance that this is on the level, I will take a stab at it now.
There is a difference between "fullness of the means of salvation" and whether or not a non-Catholic Christian can be saved at all. Simply parsing out the English words here should give the sense of that.
Most of what I am going to say follows logically from the Catholic Church's self-awareness as the Church that was personally founded by Jesus Christ. I am aware that, by definition, I suppose, you would contend such is not the case. Nevertheless, if we are to get anywhere on this, you have to understand the Church's self-perception here.
So, if the Catholic Church was, in fact, founded by Jesus, and if He endowed it with the Sacraments that are the primary means of bestowing Sanctifying Grace and Sacramental Grace to our souls, which, from a Catholic perspective, are necessary to enter into Heaven, then it follows that any church that does not maintain these Sacraments, at the very least, does not make available the "fullness of the means of salvation." Only the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches maintain all of the Sacraments, and with a view that they supply grace, therefore, by definition, all other non-Catholic bodies, from our POV, do not maintain all of the Sacraments and/or do not maintain a catholic understanding of what they are and what they do. I don't ask you to agree with the Church's conclusion here (though you should!), I am only asking you to see this, for sake of argument anyway, from the Catholic POV in order to understand what is being said.
Nowhere in all of this is there an argument about, as you put it, the "fullness of salvation." One is either saved or is not saved, there are no gradations of salvation. Therefore, you are not understanding the question properly. Catholics acknowledge Trintiarian baptism as valid, even in Protestant Churches. Therefore, remission of sins has taken place, and sanctifying grace is supplied to the recipients (even if they deny the concept) at the time of Baptism. Therefore, any Christian, at the moment of baptism, has sanctifying grace in his or her soul, and, were such a one to die at that moment, would surely be saved.
However, most people live long after baptism! They commit subsequent sins. Those sins that St. John speaks about in 1John 5:16-17 as "mortal" or "deadly" will preclude one's entry into Heaven without subsequent forgiveness. That is why they are called "mortal sins." They spell spiritual death. From the Catholic perspective, those sins need to be sacramentally confessed in order to restore us to a state of justification and for sanctifying grace to be granted to us again. Here is where there is a real problem for non-Catholic Christians, from a Catholic POV. If you don't believe in sacramental confession, and, therefore, you don't avail yourself of it, the "ordinary" means of securing God's forgiveness are not available to you. Therefore, it will be exceedingly difficult for you to become "justified" in the sight of God again. Note, however, that I did not say "impossible." Even Catholics, who, in their dying hour, repent of their sins with what is called " perfect contrition," but don't have a priest available, can make a "perfect act of contrition" and become justified again. This is not easy, however. For this, one must be not only sorry for their sins because of a fear of damnation, one must be sorry for his or her sins iwht perfect contrition for having offended God. This means also having contrition for even the slightest attachment to their sins, in addition to the sins themselves. Again, this is not easy!
It is on this basis that the Church does not say that it is "impossible" for non-Catholic Christians to be saved, but it is quite difficult, when A) most non-Catholics aren't even consciously aware of this, and B0 in anycase, it is far better, from a Catholic POV, to die with the graces of the Sacraments. That is why the "fullness of the means of salvation" is so important.
Again, you doubtless don't agree with any of this. But that's not what is at issue, or, at least, based on you questions, it should not be at issue. I am trying to give you an answer from the source POC - the Catholic Church. You may not agree with the premises, but I hope you can see that "the fullness of the means of salvation" is not the same as "the fullness of salvation," and that, in any event, "fullness of salvation" makes no sense, since you either have salvation when judged by God at death or you don't.
The Marks or Identifying Characteristics of the Church
by Fr. William G. Most
We often speak of the four marks of the Church: one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic. We do not mean that these are distinctive enough to prove the Catholic Church is the only Church of Christ. But they do help.
Christ established only one Church. "There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). Presently we will speak of the relation of members of other churches to the Catholic Church.
We say the Church is holy, not in the sense that all members are holy--far from it. But her Founder gave it all the needed means to make people holy.
The Church is Catholic because it is universal: "God wills all to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). It aims to take in all persons, in fulfillment of the command of Christ in Matthew 28:19.
We say the Church is apostolic because it goes back to the Twelve Apostles chosen by Christ Himself. The Pope and Bishops have their authority in succession from the Apostles. The Pope is the visible Head as Vicar of Christ, Christ is the invisible Head. We know Christ intended His Church to last until the end of time, because He explicitly said: "Behold, I am with you all days until the consummation of the world" (Matthew 28:20). Again, many of His parables make this clear, such as the parable of the net in which the good will be separated from the evil at the end, or the parable of the weeds in the wheat, with the same idea.
There can be, and are, bishops validly ordained who are not in union with the Pope. These are called schismatics, and lose many graces by their rejection of the Head of the Church.
Vatican II taught that just as Peter and the Apostles formed a sort of college, with Peter as the head, so in a somewhat similar way, the Pope and the Bishops also form a college (LG chapter 3). This relationship is called collegiality. However Vatican II also taught in that same chapter that the Pope can even, if he so wishes, give a solemn definition of doctrine without consulting the Bishops, and that He has immediate authority over everyone in the Church, including each Bishop.
The Church is also called the People of God, that is, those who come under the new and eternal Covenant (cf. Exodus 19:5; Jeremiah 31:31-33). St. Paul in Romans 11:17-18 pictures Christians of his day--and so also today--as being engrafted into the tame olive tree, which stands for the original People of God, into places left empty by the fallen branches, Jews who rejected Christ.
Taken from The Basic Catholic Catechism
By William G. Most. (c) Copyright 1990 by William G. Most.
First, the Church is one. The Catechism notes that the Church is one for three reasons: first, because of its source, which is the Holy Trinity, a perfect unity of three divine persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; second, because of its founder, Jesus Christ, who came to reconcile all mankind through the blood of the cross; and third, because of its "soul," the Holy Spirit, who dwells in the souls of the faithful, who unites all of the faithful into one communion of believers, and who guides the Church (#813).
The "oneness" of the Church is also visible. As Catholics, we are united in our Creed and our other teachings, the celebration of the sacraments, and the hierarchical structure based on the apostolic succession preserved and handed on through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. For example, whether one attends Mass in Alexandria, San Francisco, Moscow, Mexico City, or wherever, the Mass is the same the same readings, structure, prayers, and the like except for a difference in language celebrated by the faithful who share the same Catholic beliefs, and offered by a priest who is united to his bishop who is united to the Holy Father, the pope, the successor of St. Peter.
In our oneness, we do find diversity: The faithful bear witness to many different vocations and many different gifts, but work together to continue the mission of our Lord. The various cultures and traditions enrich our Church in their expressions of one faith. In all, charity must permeate the Church, for it is through charity that the members are bound together and work together in harmonious unity.
The Church is also holy. Our Lord Himself is the source of all holiness: "The one Christ is mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in His body which is the Church" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #14). Christ sanctifies the Church, and in turn, through Him and with Him, the Church is His agent of sanctification. Through the ministry of the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit, our Lord pours forth abundant graces, especially through the sacraments. Therefore, through its teaching, prayer and worship, and good works, the Church is a visible sign of holiness.
Nevertheless, we must not forget that each of us as a member of the Church has been called to holiness. Through baptism, we have been freed from original sin, filled with sanctifying grace, plunged into the mystery of our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection, and incorporated into the Church, "the holy people of God." By God's grace, we strive for holiness. The Second Vatican Council exhorted, "Every Catholic must therefore aim at Christian perfection and, each according to his station, play his part, that the Church, which bears in her own body the humility and dying of Jesus, may daily be more purified and renewed, against the day when Christ will present her to Himself in all her glory without spot or wrinkle" (Decree on Ecumenism, #4).
Our Church has been marked by outstanding examples of holiness in the lives of the saints of every age. No matter how dark the times may have been for our Church, there have always been those great saints through whom the light of Christ radiated. Yes, we are frail human beings, and at times we sin; yet, we repent of that sin and continue once again on the path of holiness. In a sense, our Church is a Church of sinners, not of the self-righteous or self-assured saved. One of the beautiful prayers of the Mass occurs before the Sign of Peace: "Lord, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church." Even though poor frail individual members of the Church fail and sin, the Church continues to be the sign and instrument of holiness.
The Church is also catholic. St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 100) used this word meaning "universal" to describe the Church (Letter to the Smyrnaens). The Church is indeed Catholic in that Christ is universally present in the Church and that He has commissioned the Church to evangelize the world "Go therefore an make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19).
Moreover, we must not forget that the Church here on earth what we call the Church militant is united to the Church triumphant in Heaven and the Church suffering in Purgatory. Here is the understanding of the communion of saints the union of the faithful in Heaven, in Purgatory, and on earth.
Finally, the Church is apostolic. Christ founded the Church and entrusted His authority to His apostles, the first bishops. He entrusted a special authority to St. Peter, the first Pope and Bishop of Rome, to act as His vicar here on earth. This authority has been handed down through the Sacrament of Holy Orders in what we call apostolic succession from bishop to bishop, and then by extension to priests and deacons. If possible, Bishop Loverde could trace his apostolic succession as a bishop back to one of the apostles. When Bishop Loverde ordained seven men as priests for our diocese on May 15, he did so with the authority of apostolic succession, and those men in turn share in the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. No bishop, priest, or deacon in our Church is self-ordained or self-proclaimed; rather, he is called by the Church and ordained into the apostolic ministry given by our Lord to His Church to be exercised in union with the Pope.
The Church is also apostolic in that the deposit of faith found in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition was preserved, taught, and handed on by the apostles. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Magisterium (the teaching authority entrusted to the apostles and their successors) has the duty to preserve, teach, defend, and hand on the deposit of faith. Moreover, the Holy Spirit protects the Church from error in its teaching authority. While over the course of time, the Magisterium has had to address current issues, such as nuclear war, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, the same truth principles exercised under the guidance of the Holy Spirit prevail.
These four marks of the Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic are fully realized in the Catholic Church. While other Christian Churches accept and profess the Creed, and possess elements of truth and sanctification, only the Roman Catholic Church reflects the fullness of these marks. The Second Vatican Council taught, "This Church [which Christ founded], constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #8), and "For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained" (Decree on Ecumenism, #3). Our duty then is to make these four marks visible in our daily lives.
Saunders, Rev. William. "The Four Marks of the Church." Arlington Catholic Herald.
This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.
Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.
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