The Catholicity of the Church
From you was spread abroad the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia, and Achaia, but also in every place, your faith which is towards God, is gone forth.(Thess. 1. 8.)
The parable of the mustard seed is intended to illustrate the external growth of the Church which, despite its humble beginning, is now spread over the entire world.
I. The Church of Christ must be Catholic:
1. Catholicity is a distinguishing mark or sign of the true Church, by which, while remaining one, she is at the same time universal, that is, her members are sufficiently numerous to render her easily conspicuous, and are found in all parts of the world.
2. It was foretold in the Old Testament that the Church of Christ would be universal, –“in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. xxii. 18) ; Daniel saw in vision the Church as a stone, which grew into a great mountain and filled the whole earth (Dan. ii. 35, 44); Malachy predicted that from the rising to the setting of the sun God’s name would be great among the Gentiles (Malachy i. n) ; Our Lord commanded His disciples to teach all nations (Matt. xxviii. 19).
3. This universality of the Church was not to be instantaneous, but was to be the result of a gradual growth, like the mustard seed of today’s Gospel. Even in the time of the Apostles the Church had begun to spread over the then known world, as St. Paul asserts in today’s Epistle. See also Rom. xii. 18. After the Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 51 the Apostles divided the world among them, and separated for their work of preaching the Gospel.
II. The Church of Rome alone is Catholic:
1. Only the Church of Rome is everywhere one in her teaching, her worship, and her government. While Rome is her centre, her circumference is the extremity of the earth.
2. The great majority of all Christians are Catholics; the Roman Church has far more in her fold than all the sects combined.
3. The name Catholic has been attributed to the Church of Rome from the very beginning down to the present time, and to her alone.
CONCLUSION. As the Church is Catholic so should be its members; that is, all should strive by good example, by prayer, by assisting domestic and foreign missions, to spread abroad the word of the Lord and bring others to the one true fold of Christ.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I,
Article IX of the Creed:
CATHOLICITY OF THE CHURCH
The third mark of the Church is, that she is Catholic, that is, universal. And justly is she called Catholic, because, as St. Augustine says, ” she is diffused by the splendor of one faith from the rising to the setting sun.”
(1) Unlike republics of human institution, or the conventicles of heretics, she is not circumscribed within the limits of any one kingdom, nor confined to the members of any one society of men, but embraces within the amplitude of her love all mankind, whether barbarians or Scythians, slaves or freemen, male or female. Therefore it is written, “Thou . . . hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made us to our God a kingdom.”
(2) Speaking of the Church, David says: “Ask of me, and I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession “;
(3) and also, ” I will be mindful of Rahab and of Babylon knowing me “
(4) and f This man and that man is born in her.”
(5) To this Church, moreover, ” built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,”
(6) belong all the faithful who have existed from Adam to the present day, or who shall exist, in the profession of the true faith, to the end of time; all of whom are founded and raised upon the one corner-stone, Christ, who made both one, and announced peace to them that are near and to them that are afar. She is also called universal, because all who desire eternal salvation must cling to and embrace her, like those who entered the ark to escape perishing in the flood.
(7) This, therefore, is to be taught as a most just criterion, to distinguish the true from a false church.
1. St. Aug. serm. 131 and 181, de temp.
2. Apoc. v. 9, 10.
3. Ps. ii. 8.
4. Ps. Ixxxvi. 4.
5. Ps. Ixxxvi. 5.
6. Eph. ii. 20.
7. Gen. vii. 7.
Sermon: The Races within the Fold —By the Rev. John H. Stapleton 1921
The religious world offers the spectacle of folds and shepherds, of which there is number and variety infinite. And when men have wearied of contradictory messages, opposing standards, hostile attitudes and warring sects, they settle down to the comfortable conviction that one religion is as good as another. There is, however, another ideal in the world, whose aim is one fold and one shepherd for all the sheep for whom Christ gave His life, one Church for all men. The Catholic Church stands alone in this respect, for she claims to have been sent to realize this ideal; and what is more, claims to have realized it in very fact. She is the only religious body that has ever come forward and, with credentials from God, laid claim to the extraordinary title of Unity and Catholicity. To teach all truth, to all men, in all times and in all places–no other religion ever advanced such a claim, ever attempted such a mission or ever succeeded in such an attempt. And what is still more singular, on whatever topic of Christian faith she speaks, whatever manner of men she addresses, in whatever age or clime she exercises her mission, her teaching, like the God she believes has sent her, like the truth she believes she utters, is one, unchanged and unchangeable, amid the universal flood of unstable, shifting, conflicting doctrines and opinions that storm and roar about her. One therefore she is, not only in the possession of all Divine truth, as the refuge of all men called to the knowledge of the truth of God, but one also in teaching, explaining, defending, and defining the revealed word. Men may or may not honor with their approval and acceptance these unique claims; they may or may not prefer for themselves principles less rigid and exacting, less uncompromising with the pride of life so strong within us all. But they rarely refuse just credit and a generous meed of admiration for an institution that has taught mankind and the centuries, and then, on the oneness and harmony of every official statement she has made, of every definition she has uttered with the whole body of her teaching, stakes her honor and her life.
And why should this attitude appeal to the fair-minded? It is considered the plain duty of every man who would be honest with himself to stick to the truth. And if he does, he will never change in mind, heart, or outward expression towards it. For truth does not and cannot change; it is ever the same. If it did change, it could change only to error and falsehood, and then would of course cease to exist. Thus does truth perish. It is therefore required of every man–and of a church or creed or religion as well–not to depart one jot or tittle from those truths which God has revealed, and to remain in possessing and propounding them as firm, as unyielding, as immutable as the everlasting hills. Now, to the Church of Christ, the one true Fold, such Divine revelation has been made, and to her these truths have been confided. But if there be many folds and one as good as another, what becomes of truth and loyalty to truth, since truths received in one place are rejected in another, beliefs honored today are cast off tomorrow, creeds, the expression of those truths and beliefs, are tinkered to suit passing fancy or popular passion! What is all this maze of contradiction but the destruction of truth! And when each is taught to believe what he likes, what is this huge compromise with error but the denial of truth!
Common sense makes it clear to us that contradiction is the destruction of truth, that compromise with error is its denial. To allow a thing to be at one and the same time true and false, is to stultify oneself mentally and morally. To let go the truth once consciously possessed, is the lowest form of moral cowardice; to receive as truth that which is not known to be the truth, is a crime against the human mind. And no official expounder of Divine teachings can allow them to be altered under penalty of making God a liar, God Who is Truth Itself. It is in obedience to this fundamental principle that the Catholic Church as the One true Fold puts forth Unity as one of her marks of Divine origin and remains faithful to it even when men would prefer otherwise. God is not where disorder is; His truth is not where contradiction is. If His revealed Word is still on earth, having been delivered into the keeping of man, it is to be found where the teaching is one, as truth is one and as God is one.
And this teaching that is one, uniform, logical, and uncompromising, is really the soul food intended by the Almighty for every creature come from His hand. It is evident that He created the human mind normally receptive of truth alone, without admixture of error or contradiction. The normal man has therefore a natural right to hear from the lips of the authorized custodian of the Divine word nothing but the truth, and that perpetually. Men are all destined for one goal; the path of salvation is the same for all. All men are created equal–and in this sense alone is the famous saying perfectly true; human nature is substantially the same always and everywhere. Men have today, as they have always had, the same needs; they have the same struggles for good, the same difficulties against evil, the same moral miseries. Hence they require the same guiding knowledge, the same spiritual sustenance, the same helps and remedies. They can no more thrive on truth and error than they can thrive on meat and poison. And therefore, being all called to a knowledge of the same Divine truths, they are all called to the one fold, and to them all the one shepherd is sent.
Whether or not the words “there shall be one fold,” fallen from the lips of Christ, contain a prediction or a command, matters little. For we know that a prophecy from God, in so far as it concerns something to be done by His creatures, amounts to a command. What God says will be done, must and shall be done! His words foretelling an effect to be produced by human agency, resolve themselves into a law whereby men are bound to make His words come true and to see to it that His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Thus when Mary spoke by the Spirit of God and announced that all nations should arise and called her blessed, men were thereby commanded to fulfill the prediction in the designs of God. In like manner, when Christ said ” there shall be one fold and one shepherd,” He spoke of a reality to be accomplished, even though many might perversely oppose it, remain outside the fold, refuse to listen to His voice. One kingdom without rival or division, to which should be called and into which should gather the multitudes of the nations–this is what Christ foretold. A church which should be One and Catholic– this is what had to come to pass, or Christ must be counted with the prophets of falsehood.
He would also be reckoned with those unworthy suppliants whose prayer has no power with the heavenly Father, He who as God is equal to the Father, and as man, St. Paul tells us, was ” heard for his reverence.” How blasphemous to assert that Jesus’ petition before the throne of heaven was spurned! Yet this is the prayer the Divine Saviour uttered to His “Holy Father” in favor of those whom He was sent to save–” whom thou hast given me”–that is, all men: “that they all may be one, as thou, 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.”
Finally, this scheme of one religion for all men did not originate in the fertile mind of some idle dreamer. Its source is emphatically in the Law: “go, teach all nations.” Here is a commission, a Divine commission. It was given to a church which Christ had founded; which, according to the Apostle, was built precisely and equipped exactly for such a task, framed together, compacted, and fitly joined together by joints and bands, “one body and one spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one Baptism”; which was therefore endowed with the energy and faculty to preserve its unity in the bonds of faith, to spread out to all men and gather them into the fold; to which if men hearken not, they are to be regarded as heathens and publicans. The commission reads: ” teach . . .” not what she felt like teaching, what might suit her, what might suit the men to whom she spoke; but ” all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Here is a commission. A church was sent by Christ, who is God, on such a mission; this much is clear. Where is that church? Or rather, where is the adverse claimant of such a tremendous mandate? Who else but the Church known as the One and Catholic has ever dared to assume such a colossal responsibility?
We need not look farther than our own land to discover the reality of the Church’s claim to be one and Catholic, that is, as a Church with one object before her vision–men, namely all men, human beings with souls purchased by Christ; with one message for them all–the truths of God deposited in her bosom; and with a voice of authority and the knowledge of all men and all tongues to deliver that message. Here are all the nations of earth gathered together. Here swarm representatives of every race under the sun. In this modern Babel of mankind we behold men from the remote corners of the habitable globe standing shoulder to shoulder, kneeling side by side, in one faith and religious obedience. They differ seemingly in all things save humanity and religion. And while they await the process of amalgamation at work about them, they stand forth in their various nationalities and tongues as members of the Fold that is One and Catholic. What was the pentecostal gathering–Parathions, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, etc.,–compared with the myriad-tongued immigrants landing on our shores? Truly the world is hers.
Here she meets her children and gathers them into her ample fold, into her motherly and all-embracing arms. The worldling has seen her at work in our midst and has noted how she knows no difference of race, color, or language, of time, place, or social condition; how. she ignores all distinctions and how to all these children of men she speaks alike with the voice of God’s representative of the things that pertain to God. They all have a calling to and a place at her table where she breaks bread to the soul hungry for God; and every one is sure to receive from her hands the same spiritual food and to hear from her lips the same spiritual truths, whether his abode had been among the snows and ice of the north or he dwelt on the luxuriant plains of the tropics or amid the gaiety of the capitals of the world. He is the same to her, no more, no less, whether he be prince or pauper, black, white, or yellow, refined or uncouth in the degree of his civilization, whatever the mellifluous sweetness or the broken jargon of his native speech. Language may divide nation, but it makes no difference to her. Diversity of tongue is an accident. It bars none, estranges none; it is no title to preferment, no badge of dishonor or disgrace. Neither is it an obstacle to her activity and success. When she speaks, it is Peter’s voice that is heard from Maine to Texas, as it was heard when it rang out so fearlessly in Jerusalem on the memorable Pentecost morning when, in company with the other disciples, with one accord, delivering the same message but with divers tongues according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak, he astonished the various tribes that heard him, every man in his own tongue wherein he was born, announcing the wonderful works of God.
And so here, as everywhere in the world, the familiar sounds of many tongues are music to her well-trained ear. Strangers though we may be in a strange land, we are no strangers to her. For to whatever corner of the earth we trace our origin, to whatever race we belong, she begat us in the Christian faith and stood sponsor at the baptism of our people. She knows us and we know her, like the Good Shepherd and His flock. The problem of races is no problem to her, for she was formed from the beginning to the task of catechizing the universal race of men. In an atmosphere like ours politically, with our habits and institutions, this heterogeneous mass will one day be welded together and moulded into a type of mankind unknown before in the world, which we fondly believe will exhibit itself as the best product of the human race. It will take years, it may take centuries, to effect the transformation. But even if it should never come to pass, the spiritual and religious homogeneity of the bulk of our foreign population is an accomplished fact. The Church would not be One, if her many-tongued children proved here capable, as they have never elsewhere been capable, of disintegrating the inviolable body of her doctrines. She would not be Catholic if she could not assimilate them all.
When the mission of the Church to teach all truth to all men, in all times and in all climes, shall have been fulfilled, she will pass away. When will that be? Twenty centuries that have leveled every human institution to the dust and buried the very ruins from the sight of men, have left her younger and more vigorous than ever. Will twenty centuries more succeed better in the work of destruction? Let prophets forecast as they must. This much is true: the mission of the Church will certainly one day be accomplished and she will pass away. But when she does, it will be in the fulness of time proposed to her work. It will be when men, for whose needs she was established, shall themselves have passed away and have no further need of her. She will cease to exist, but that will be when the great heart of nature ceases to throb in the heaving bosom of the ocean, for Christ’s word is truth: ” Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”