The Apostolicity of the Church
With whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration (James 1. 17)
At that time Jesus said to his disciples: When He, the Spirit of truth, is come,
He will teach you all truth. (John 16, 13)
St. James in today’s Epistle tells us that God is ever the same, always unchangeable. It is only natural, therefore, that the true Church of God should likewise remain unchanged, in spite of all the vicissitudes of time and place and of every other institution in this world. The secret of this distinctive characteristic of the Church of Christ is the abiding presence in her of that same Spirit of truth and immutability whom our Lord promised to the Apostles in today’s Gospel.
I. Apostolicity is a mark of the true Church of Christ.
I. Apostolicity means that the Church in every age must be identical with the Church of the Apostles. This identity is manifest in a public, lawful, and unbroken succession of pastors, coming down from the Apostles, maintaining the same doctrines, worship, and government which the Apostles delivered to the Church. 2. The Scriptures tell us that the true Church must be identical with the Church of the Apostles, for Paul says, ” though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema ” (Gal. i. 8) ; “and it is built upon the foundations of the apostles” (Eph. ii. 20). This identity in teaching and government in the true Church must be handed down uninterruptedly by a line of legitimate pastors who descend from the Apostles themselves; for “how shall they preach unless they be sent?”(Rom. x. 15)
Thus the priests of Crete received their authority from Titus, and Titus in turn received his from Paul (Titus i. 5). In their disputes with heretics the most ancient Fathers of the Church always appealed to the unbroken succession of pastors in the Church to decide the truth of any doctrine.
II. The Church of Rome alone is Apostolic:
1. Her succession of supreme pastors has never failed. Benedict XV traces back an unbroken pedigree through 260 predecessors to St. Peter himself. Their names and lives are handed down in history and can be proved by public documents. The Protestants had their beginning with Luther, sixteen centuries after the Apostles; the Greek schismatics go back to Photius, eight centuries after the Apostles. 2. The Catholic Church has preserved the Sacred Scriptures, and she alone today reveres them as the word of God. Of God’s oral word or tradition she has been the sole guardian and defender. 3. Thus the Catholic Church only is identical with the Church of the Apostles. This even the adversaries of the Church admit when they accuse her of being always the same and out of date. It was the identity between the Catholic Church of today and the Church of the Apostles that brought the great mind of Newman into the true fold.
CONCLUSION: 1. Gratitude to God for the inestimable privilege and dignity of belonging to the Church of the Apostles. 2. Respect and reverence for the Bishops and priests of the Church, the successors of the Apostles and disciples.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part 1, Article IX of the Creed:
APOSTOLICITY OF THE CHURCH
The true Church is also to be known, from her origin, which she derives under the law of grace, from the Apostles; for her doctrines are neither novel nor’ of recent origin, but were delivered of old by the Apostles, and disseminated throughout the world. Hence, no one can for a moment doubt that the impious opinions which heresy invents, opposed as they are to the doctrines taught by the Church from the days of the Apostles to the present time, are very different from the faith of the true Church. That all, therefore, may know the true Catholic Church, the Fathers, guided by the Spirit of God, added to the Creed the word ” APOSTOLIC “;(1) for the Holy Ghost, who presides over the Church, governs her by no other than Apostolic men; and this Spirit, first imparted to the Apostles, has by the infinite goodness of God always continued in the Church. But as this one Church, because governed by the Holy Ghost, cannot err in faith or morals, it necessarily follows that all other societies arrogating to themselves the name of Church, because guided by the spirit of darkness, are sunk in the most pernicious errors, both doctrinal and moral.
1. On the notes of the true Church, see Augustine, Contra Epist. fundamenti and Tertullian, De Praescript.
Sermon: Catholicity and Apostolic Origin of the Church —By Cardinal Corsi 1921
In our preceding instruction we learned that the true Church founded by Jesus Christ must be furnished with four conspicuous characteristics, rendering her easily recognizable, so that all may follow the teaching of Christ and be able to obtain salvation. These distinguishing marks of the true Church are, as we learned, Oneness, Sanctity, Catholicity, and Apostolicity. As to the first two qualities, I have showed how the marks of oneness and sanctity are, without any doubt, possessed by our Church.
The true Church must also be catholic, namely universal. As she is to be for all mankind the sole necessary means for the attainment of salvation, it is necessary that this means should exist at all times in the world and everywhere. Finally, she must be apostolic. For, as Jesus Christ founded His Church upon the apostles, and commissioned them to spread the same in the world, thus Jesus Christ can only acknowledge as His Church that religious community which was established by His apostles at His command. We shall see that also these attributes are found in the Church to which we belong.
The third characteristic of the true Church is that she is catholic, or universal. Holy Scripture speaks of the Church under the image of a kingdom destined to spread itself throughout all parts of the world, and in which all men may find salvation, to attain the end for which they were created. In this regard we know that the Catholic Church is not restricted to one place, to one province, to one nation, but that she extends north, south, east, and west, over the whole wide world. She distinguishes not between nations of believers and unbelievers. We find Catholics in Protestant nations, in heathen and Mohammedan countries, among the savages of the remotest parts of Africa, Asia, and Oceanica, all united together by the bonds of the same faith and by participation in the same sacraments. Therefore the title Catholic belongs by right to our Church, because she is spread throughout all parts and embraces all periods. Our faith is the same as that of Abraham and the ancient patriarchs. They believed in the Redeemer that was to come, and we in the same Redeemer who has come. Christ is the corner-stone that joins together the faithful who were before Him with those who came after Him, the Old Testament with the New, the prophets with the apostles. What more striking proof of the catholicity of our Church could one ask?
The true Church must, finally, be apostolic; she must have been founded by the apostles, and must descend from the apostles and have their doctrine. Now all this is absolutely true of our Roman Catholic Church. The succession of her priests began with the apostles, and will continue so for all times. From our present Pope we can trace his predecessors in office to St. Peter, appointed by Jesus Christ Himself to be the head of His Church. And so can we trace the ordination and appointment of all Catholic bishops. The source of their authority is in each case a bishop ordained by one of the apostles, so that their office and authority were derived from the apostles.
Through this uninterrupted succession in the priesthood the doctrine of the Church has been preserved unchanged from the apostles down to us. It suffices to compare what is taught today with what was taught in the early Church, and we shall find that all articles of faith which we believe were also believed in the time of the apostles. The doctrine given by Jesus Christ to the apostles, and by the apostles proclaimed to all nations, is still professed by all Catholics. This most evident proof suffices in order to demonstrate that our holy Church is manifestly the Church that Jesus Christ founded, because she has preserved all the marks of her origin. If members of the early Church were to rise from the dead in these days, they would immediately recognize in our holy Church the Church in which they lived and believed.
Behold, then, how the four marks, Oneness, Sanctity, Catholicity, and Apostolicity are found in our holy Church, and in her alone. The other so-called churches, standing in opposition to ours, cannot boast of the possession of these characteristics, and hence they are false religions.
There is still another sure mark by which we may recognize the true Church, that mark to which the divine Saviour referred when He foretold that His apostles would become objects of constant persecution on the part of the world. Which is the religious community, that Church against which all others seem to have sworn an irreconcilable hatred, which the world persecutes with its jibes and calumnies because she teaches the truth and condemns error and vice? Where is the Church that wears a crown of thorns, a diadem of suffering? It is our Catholic Church. The sword of persecution is continually drawn against the Church of Rome. She must continually struggle in the heat of strife. She is the true Church of Christ, and all other religious communities are false, because truth is only one, and there can be only one true Church.
All these things which we have considered are well calculated to make comprehensible to us the priceless privilege of belonging to the Catholic Church, a blessing which we can never sufficiently appreciate, a grace which has been imparted to us by the mercy of God without any merit whatever on our part. He who has the misfortune of being born and taught in a false religion may turn to the true one, and many have done so. Yet it is extremely difficult to overcome the prejudices of training and education. Hence let us be most grateful to God for the precious gift of faith, and let us make use of it in the way He desires. Without this the blessing will be not only useless, but will merit for us greater punishment. What would it avail us, indeed, to be children of a holy Church if we were to lead lives in contradiction to her teachings?
In order to be saved it is therefore not sufficient to be born in and to belong to the true Church. We must also profess her doctrines and arrange our manner of living according to her tenets. We must by the righteousness of our moral lives take part in the sanctity of the Church.
Along with the wheat in the fields grow the tares. But the mere fact of growing in a wheat field does not save the useless tares from destruction. This is the comparison which Jesus Christ employed to explain to us the necessity of having merits. Both good and bad members are now found in the field of the Church, but a separation will be made by Christ on the day of judgment. Great will then be the despair of bad Catholics to see themselves cast with the unbelievers and godless, condemned to the flames of hell, which will be all the more severe for them as they had been favored by God with admission to the true Church.
May this thought, dear brethren, dwell in your memory as a strong incentive to correspond faithfully with the graces received, and to live in His Church as God would have you, namely, as her loyal, obedient, and sanctified members. Amen.
Sermon: The True Church of Christ —By Cardinal Corsi 1921
In the world there are many sects, religions, and creeds, and the Jew, the Mohammedan, the Baptist, the Presbyterian, and the rest, each one claims his religion to be the true one. Each condemns as false the other creeds; the belief and religious practices of each are in opposition one to another. Yet truth can be but one, as God only is one; it is consequently impossible that all, or even two opposed creeds, can be true. There can be only one true religion, only one true Church of Christ.
How are we then to find the true Church in this bewildering throng of religious bodies? One thing is certain, and that is: God could not leave us in ignorance in a matter of such great moment, a matter involving nothing less than our eternal welfare. The way that leads to salvation must be open to all; it must be one that each man may see and know. And so it is. The Lord has willed that His Church, like a city built upon the pinnacle of a mountain, should be visible and be manifest to the whole world, and He provided it with such evident marks that men of every condition are enabled to see it, and to distinguish it from false churches. The marks of the true Church are that she must be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and as these marks are alone found in the Roman Catholic Church, she alone is the true Church of Jesus Christ. Let me further explain this.
The true Church of Christ must be one; one in her faith, one in her communion, one in her constitution, one in her head. And this is the fact with our Church. She is one in faith. Although spread over the whole world, all her communities hold in every particular the same faith. Though her gospel is preached in many different languages, the truths proclaimed are the same. And so has it been ever since her foundation, and will ever be. Ask a Catholic in any part of the wide world, call from the grave a Catholic from any of the centuries that have passed since the founding of the Church, and this Catholic from the distant islands of the Pacific or from Iceland, this Catholic who lived before or after the Reformation, each will profess the same apostolic creed that you and I profess. The Roman Catholic Church is one in her belief, and while she has occasionally more clearly defined some particular dogma which was assailed by her enemies, she has never changed in the truths she has taught.
The Roman Catholic Church is one also in her communion and constitution. All her children are subject to the Supreme Head, partake of the same sacraments, join in the same sacrifice, the same prayers, the same divine worship. In order to preserve this supernatural community, Jesus Christ gave to the Church a constitution which makes her an active and perfectly governed body. In every diocese there is a bishop who has for his assistants the priests, and over all the bishops is placed the Pope, as the representative of Christ on earth. The laity are joined in communities under leadership of their pastors, the communities are joined into dioceses under their bishops, and all the dioceses together form the Church, under the leadership of the Pope.
The Pope is the representative of Jesus Christ, so that through the Pope the Church and all her faithful are directly linked with God. Thus there is one single flock, under one single shepherd (John x. 16). And this is the perfect unity of the Catholic Church.
How different from our holy Church is the situation in which the sects separated from our Church find themselves. I am not speaking here of infidels. Since they do not profess Jesus Christ, they cannot of course be one with Him. I speak of the sects that, though they call themselves Christians, are in opposition to our Church, and are commonly called Protestants. There is among them no unity because they do not hold the same belief. They cannot have unity in belief, for they acknowledge no supreme head, no supreme authority, no infallible teaching office. Each sect, in fact almost each individual Protestant, follows his own opinion and forms his belief according to his lights. Hence in each of the many sects there are almost as many opinions on matters of faith as there are individuals.
The true religion of Jesus Christ, furthermore, must be holy. Jesus Christ died, says St. Paul, in order to found a Church without spot and without wrinkle. Our Roman Catholic Church is holy in her invisible head, Jesus Christ, holy in her teaching and in her precepts, holy in her sacraments and religious exercises, holy in her commandments and in her aims, holy in her saints, and holy, finally, in her faithful and obedient children. Our Church, therefore, is holy, and she alone can be holy.
The sects separated from our Church cannot be holy; they have not Jesus Christ for their founder, nor have they the successors of the holy apostles for their heads. Their founders have been far from holy, and therefore could not endow them with holiness.
The true Church of Christ must also be catholic, which means universal. Truth is but one; it is the same at all times, in all places. That which is true here is true everywhere, and what is true today will be true to-morrow and for all time. The Church, as the truth revealed to the world, must therefore be universal, existing at all times, since her foundation by Christ, and in all places, since she is the Church of God. Our Church teaches the truths which were revealed to our first parents, handed down by the patriarchs, defined by the law of Moses, proclaimed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and spread abroad by the apostles and their successors throughout the world. These same truths will be proclaimed, unaltered, until the end of the world, because the Church will exist as long as the world, and her faith will be the true faith of the human race for all times. She is catholic, or universal, also as regards place. She invites every man, she enters the entire world and embraces all nations. Everywhere, and at all times, the same creed, the same holy sacrifice, are found within her fold.
Not so with the sects separated from our Church. They are not catholic, or universal. They are not universal in regard to place or to time. There was a time since the death of our Lord when they were not in existence, and in regard to place, many of them are the official religions of some particular State, and not much known beyond its borders.
Finally, the true Church of Christ must be apostolic. The divine Saviour confided the revealed truths to His apostles for the salvation of the world. To them he gave the commission to preach the same throughout the world. From the apostles, therefore, whom the Holy Spirit designates as the pillars and foundation of the Church (Apoc. xxi. 14), the true Church must descend. And this is the case with our Roman Catholic Church. She is apostolic, because the apostles commissioned by Christ established her and were her first shepherds. We can prove the succession of our bishops from the times of the apostles. We have in the Holy See of Rome the lawful successor of St. Peter. His doctrine is that received from the apostles. Hence the Roman Catholic Church is the apostolic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ, the only true Church.
That the Protestant sects cannot claim apostolic origin is evident. Yes, dear brethren, the true Church founded by the Redeemer of the world, propagated by His apostles, and confirmed by the blood of martyrs, is our Roman Catholic Church, the only Church that is truly one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. In her alone has the Lord deposited the treasure of truth revealed to the world; deposited the treasures of grace which sanctifies souls, effects their salvation, and leads them to heaven. She is the Church which the Supreme Pastor, the Son of God, alone acknowledges as His, the Church in which the graces of the redemption merited by Christ are applied to mankind at all times without restriction. We must seek our salvation in her alone, for only in the field in which the treasure is buried (Matth. xiii. 44) can it be found; in another I seek in vain. He who preaches another gospel than that announced by the apostles, even if he were an angel from heaven, is anathema, says St. Paul, and to him who is an adherent of this other gospel, that ends in the flesh after beginning in the spirit, Christ will avail nothing; rather he will lose Christ (Gal. v. 2-4).
Let us therefore praise the Lord, and thank Him fervently for having preferred and elected us to be born in the bosom of His holy Church. Let us ever love this holy Church, this faithful Spouse of Jesus Christ; let us obey her voice; it is the voice of God. She will then lead us after the brief conflict of this earthly life to the eternal triumphs of heaven. Amen.