The Holiness of the Church
Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved, the bowels of mercy, etc. (COL. 3. 12)
Our Lord in the Gospel of today compares His Church to a field in which there is sowed good and bad seed. By this parable, as He Himself later explained, He meant to show that there would be both good and bad members in the Church. But the presence of some evil members in His Kingdom does not destroy the holiness of the Church, and in the end He will gather up these evil-doers and cast them out into the furnace of fire.
The Church is holy in her founder and in her doctrine.
1. Unlike the originators of the various sects, who were merely human and oftentimes notorious sinners, the founder of the Catholic Church was Christ, the fountain of all holiness. 2. The teaching of the Church is holy because she has never departed from the commandments of God, nor ceased to urge upon men the necessity of good works, and to counsel the highest perfection. Rather than sacrifice any portion of divine law she has endured persecution and suffered the loss of entire nations. We must obey God rather than men, has been her motto. Compare the conduct of Luther, who permitted Philip of Hesse to have two wives, with that of Pope Clement VII, who excommunicated Henry VIII rather than annul the latter’s marriage.
The Church possesses the means of holiness.
1. The Catholic Church alone has all the Sacraments and the true sacrifice of the New Law, which are the main channels of grace and sanctification. 2. Only in the Catholic Church do we find a complete and proper use of sacramentals, feasts, observances, and devotions, by which the mind is elevated to heavenly things and holiness made more easily attainable.
The Church is holy in her members.
I. Only in the Catholic Church are there to be found, in every age, in every country, and from every condition of life, persons whose extraordinary sanctity has been attested to by God Himself through the gift of miracles, and who, in consequence, have been raised to the altars by canonization and beatification. The number of holy confessors, martyrs, virgins, and widows thus officially inscribed in the catalogue of the saints is well nigh innumerable.
2. Besides this great number of saints officially recognized in the Church there are at all times and in all countries vast multitudes of holy souls who, though not possessing the gift of miracles like the canonized saints, have nevertheless a sanctity far exceeding anything outside the Church, e.g., devout priests, the members of religious orders of men and women, self-sacrificing missionaries to foreign lands, daily and weekly communicants, etc. 3. If all the members of the Church are not holy, it is only because the cockle grows along with the wheat, as our Lord foretold in today’s Gospel. Human nature always retains its propensities to evil, and men are at all times free to use or abuse the gifts of grace. That there should be some wicked members in the true Church ought not to cause any surprise when we remember that even among the twelve Apostles whom Christ Himself chose, one was a traitor.
CONCLUSION. All the members of the Church are called to be saints. We should strive faithfully to live according to this high vocation by putting into practice the holy teachings of the Church by making use of the sacraments and the other means of sanctification which the Church affords, by studying the lives of the saints and trying to imitate the good example of the Church’s holy members.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I, Article IX of the Creed:
HOLINESS OF THE CHURCH
Another distinctive mark of the Church is holiness, as we learn from these words of the prince of the apostles: ” You are a chosen generation, a holy nation.”(1) The Church is called holy because she is consecrated and dedicated to God,(2) as other things, such as vessels, vestments, altars, when appropriated and dedicated to the worship of God, although material, are called holy. In the same sense the first-born, who were dedicated to the Most High God, were also called holy.(3)
It should not be deemed matter of surprise that the Church, although numbering among her children many sinners, is called holy; for as those who profess any art, although they should depart from its rules, are called artists, so the faithful, although offending in many things, and violating the engagements to the observance of which they had solemnly pledged themselves, are called holy, because they are made the people of God, and are consecrated to Christ, by Baptism and faith. Hence, St. Paul calls the Corinthians sanctified and holy, although it is certain that among them there were some whom he severely rebuked as carnal, and also charged with grosser crimes.(4)
The Church is also to be called holy because, as the body, she is united to her head, Christ Jesus,(5) the fountain of all holiness, from whom flow the graces of the Holy Spirit and the riches of the divine bounty. St. Augustine, interpreting these words of the prophet, ” Preserve my soul, for I am holy,”(6) thus admirably expresses himself: ” Let the body of Christ boldly say, let also that one man, exclaiming from the ends of the earth, boldly say, with Christ his head, and under Christ his head, ‘I am holy’: for he received the grace of holiness, the grace of baptism and of remission of sins.” And a little further on: ” If all Christians and all the faithful, having been baptized in Christ, have put him on, according to these words of the Apostle: ‘as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ’;(7) if they are made members of his body, and yet say they are not holy, they do an injury to their head, whose members are holy.”(8)(9)
Moreover, the Church alone has the legitimate worship of sacrifice, and the salutary use of the sacraments, by which, are the efficacious instruments of divine grace. God establishes us in true holiness; so that to possess true holiness we must belong to this Church. The Church, therefore, it is clear, is holy,(10) and holy because she is the body of Christ, by whom she is sanctified, and in whose blood she is washed.(11)(12)
Sermon on the Holiness of the Church: —By the Rt. Rev. Wm. T. Russel, D.D., Ll.D., 1921
Theological terms for the most part convey a rather misty and confused conception to the average mind. The words “holy,”” sanctified,” ” religious,” ” righteous,” and ” justified ” mean the same thing to most people, and to many they are mere cant expressions, so vague as to mean almost nothing. When we claim for any religious organization that it is the holy Church of Christ, we must first clearly define the meaning of the word holy according to Scriptural usage, and secondly we must show that the religious organization in question has a right to claim the title holy as its special attribute.
In Scripture, the two words ” holy ” and ” sanctified” mean the same. They are used in regard to places, things, and persons. For example, certain lands among the Israelites were to be holy to the Lord, that is, separated, set apart from other lands, for religious purposes. Again, the Israelites are commanded to sanctify the first fruits and the first-born of all animals, that is, set them apart unto the Lord for sacrifice. Likewise Aaron and his sons were to be holy to the Lord, that is, separated from the rest of the Israelites and devoted to the special work of the altar. Finally, God is called holy, holy, holy, that is, the One who is separated from and transcends all else. The basic idea underlying all usage of the word ” holy” is, therefore, found in such words as ” separated,” ” set apart,” ” isolated,” ” distinct,” ” different from others,” “exclusive,” and “select.”
The Church of Christ we should expect to find holy, that is, unlike other organizations, (1) in its life and character, (2) in its purpose and the means to attain that purpose, (3) in its fruits.
I. Holy in its Life and Character.
In its life the true Church of Jesus Christ must resemble its Master in being separated from the world. ” If you had been of the world,” said our Lord, “the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John xv. 19). “The disciple is not above the master, nor the servant above his lord. … If they have called the good man of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household. . . Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against the mother in law. And a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household. He that lovefh father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me.” “Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. But he that shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before my Father Who is in heaven” (Matt.10. 24, 25,33-38, 32, 33)
Our Lord warned His Church beforehand of its future trials, lest it be scandalized at the things which were to come upon it. “They will put you out of the synagogues,” He said, ” yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth a service to God” (John 16,. 2).
Now, I ask, which of all the denominations calling themselves Christian does this description fit ? Of all the Christian churches, which is the one that is looked upon as a separate organization? Which stands apart from all the others? Against which one are all the others united in opposition? Is it not true that all the numerous Protestant denominations are at variance on every point except one–hostility to the Catholic Church? Is it not true that while Protestants profess to leave every one to his own interpretation of the Scriptures, and find no fault with a friend who becomes an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, or a Baptist, they will condemn and often ostracize one who becomes a Catholic? Is it not true that there is only one church which demands for Christ’s sake a separation even from father, mother, and all that is dear?
Which church today is in every land under the sun, and by every nation is persecuted ? A few years ago there were Catholics among us so weak as to be ready to admit that all Christian denominations were more or less alike; but during the last five years, in which the Catholic Church has been singled out for misrepresentation, calumny, and vile persecution in this country, these weak-spined Catholics must be convinced that they are not regarded as other people. They may be surprised at the position in which they find themselves. It is unjust,–yes, often cruel; but let them not be shocked. They knew not formerly of what spirit they were. Through this persecution our Lord has taught them that His Church is not like other churches. If it were of the world, the world would love its own.
It was said of our Lord that He was holy; in this, that He was not like other teachers of religion. “Behold,” they said, “he teaches as one having authority, and not as the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt. 7. 29; Mark 2. 22). Of all the Christian denominations today, which church stands apart, is holy, like Christ, in this respect ? There can be only one which speaks with authority–the Catholic Church. For all the others–the Protestant churches–have abandoned authority and rest merely on private judgment. There is not a single Protestant teacher, minister, or bishop, however learned or eminent, who can say with authority to the most ignorant of his congregation: ” My friend, the law of God commands thus and so.” The other, according to Protestant principles, will have an unquestionable right to reply: “I am sorry we can’t agree. My interpretation of the law is different.”
II. Holy in its Purpose and Means.
The Church of Christ must be holy, that is, distinct and separated from all other organizations, in the purpose of its existence, and the means it uses to attain that purpose.
“I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him that sent Me. . . . And this is the will of my Father that sent Me: that every one that seeth the Son, and believeth in Him, may have life everlasting” (John vi. 38, 40). “As the Father hath sent Me, so also I send you” (John 20. 21).
It is plain from this that the special purpose of the Church of Christ is to save men by teaching them to do God’s will. The idea of doing God’s will whether one likes it or not, whether one derives comfort from it or not, is foreign to the Protestant conception of religion. The Protestant regards religion from the viewpoint of man. The Catholic considers religion from the viewpoint of God. The Protestant asks: How shall I attain comfort? The Catholic asks. What is my duty? The former aims at a self-conscious righteousness; the latter aims to please God. Protestants generally regard religion as a convenient means to make children docile, husbands and wives faithful, and to produce good, patriotic citizens; the duty to God is secondary. The Catholic looks upon religion primarily as his reasonable service to God, his Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer; all other considerations are secondary. Civilization and humanitarianism are the results of the Church’s influence, but from the words of our Lord it is evident that they cannot constitute the primary purpose of the Church’s activity. Many of the non-Catholic churches today are devoting themselves almost exclusively to the relief of humanity, while neglecting the worship of the Deity.
Furthermore, the Church of Christ must be holy, that is different from all other organizations, in the kind of means it employs to attain its end. For the doing of His Father’s will our Lord employed not riches, nor social influence, nor political power. On the contrary, He was so poor that He had not whereon to lay His head. Socially it was said of Him that he was a wine-bibber and “a friend of publicans and sinners” (Matt. xi. 19; Luke vii.34). While He taught obedience and respect for all authority, He allied Himself with no political party. When approached on the subject He said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Referring to His Church, He said: ” I am come to call not saints but sinners ” (Mark 2. 17). The Kingdom of Heaven (His Church) is like a net, gathering good and bad fish (Matt. 13. 47-49). It is a field sown with both wheat and cockle (Matt. 13. 24-30).
Now, when I speak of a church that is the wealthiest and most fashionable, you know what church I mean, and that it is not the Catholic Church. When I speak of churches that preach politics instead of religion from their pulpits and use political power to advance their spiritual hobbies, you know I do not refer to the Catholic Church. When I speak of churches that use, as their special means of proselytism, concerts, gymnastic associations, and swimming pools, you know that I do not refer to the Catholic Church. Neither can it be said that the characteristics I have just mentioned are the marks of the Church of Christ. When, however, I speak of a church that is called a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and harlots; a church which has little wealth, and whose members suffer from unjust discrimination; a church that is the refuge of the sinner and the outcast; a church which relies upon spiritual means primarily for the conversion of sinners and the spread of the faith, you know that I cannot refer to any Protestant denomination. These things can be said of only one church, which stands apart from all others. As these things were said of Christ, they are said of the Catholic Church today.
III. Holy in its Effects.
The Church of Christ should always be distinguishable from all other organizations by its spiritual effects; for Christ promised that His Church would endure to the end of the world. The average Protestant has a very hazy notion about the purpose of Christ’s mission on earth. Vaguely, and in a large, confused sort of way, he will say that Christ came to do good, and that He established His Church to do good. True, but all men are engaged in doing good; and, generally speaking, all organizations are for some good purpose. Every beneficial society, life-insurance company, every city and state, is an organization for doing good. What is it, then, that makes Christ and His Church holy, that is, apart from all others in the kind of good they are doing?
The holiness or distinctness of the Church of Christ should consist in this, that, resembling its Divine Master, the good it accomplishes must be, first, of a superior order, and secondly, the outcome of the most exalted motives. The goodness of Christ was unselfish and heroic. “Greater love than this,” He said, “no man hath–that he lay down his life for his friend.” Can we find such transcendent goodness in the world today? This heroic, unselfish goodness, I assert without fear of contradiction, you will find in the Catholic Church as you will find it nowhere else. It is part of her ordinary life–it is continuous throughout the ages. Come with me to the leper settlements, where priests and nuns are giving their lives for the afflicted, after sacrificing home, relatives, friends, comforts, riches, and all else that is dearest to the human heart. Call to mind the devoted missionaries who go out from home to foreign lands–not, like Protestant missionaries, with their wives and children and servants and plenty of money–but to suffer and to die. But you need not go so far afield. The great sacrifice that the Catholic priesthood represents is so general as to attract little or no attention. With all our faults, it is a noticeable fact that Protestant ministers endeavor to imitate us by wearing the Roman collar, and nothing pleases a preacher more than to be mistaken for a Catholic priest, and called ” Father.” Imitation is born of admiration. Seldom do we realize the enormous sacrifice exemplified in this city by the Little Sisters of the Poor, the sisters in our hospitals and schools, and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Protestantism unfurls its flags and beats its drums and grows eloquent over the achievements of a Florence Nightingale or a Clara Barton. It is right that it should. They deserve all honor. They were noble women. But let us remember that the Catholic Church numbers such heroines, not by ones and twos, but by the thousand, in every land and in every age. Not only is superior virtue so general in the Catholic Church as to be almost common, but it is prompted by the most exalted motives. There are some, indeed, outside the Church who give themselves without money consideration for the service of others, in helping the poor, in teaching the ignorant, and in alleviating the sorrows of the afflicted, but they do so almost invariably from a feeling of mere human sympathy or pity. The instances, moreover, of such generosity are exceedingly rare. The Catholic Church, however, proposes to her children all that is noble and generous in the motives and activities of the uplifter, but over and above the mere human sympathy that actuates the uplifter, she inspires her priests, nuns, and laity to labor for the highest conceivable motive–the love of God. Animated by such sublime motives, Catholic charity is as much exalted above ordinary, non-Catholic humanitarianism as Heaven is above earth.
This explains why heroic virtue can be a part of the ordinary life of the Catholic Church. This is the keynote of the life of a Father Damien, a Francis of Assisi, and a Vincent de Paul, all of whom have many followers today. Inspired by this high motive in the Middle Ages, a St. Raymond could gather round him a multitude of men in the association for the redemption of captives, who bound themselves by vow to take the places of the Christian captives, and to live in slavery among the Turks, in order that prisoners with wives and children might return to their homes. Has the world ever witnessed the equal of such goodness? It is fruit like this which proclaims the Catholic Church divine, and makes her holy–infinitely apart from and superior to all other religious bodies. “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, and be not conformed to this world.” Thus did St. Paul exhort the Christians of his day. It is to be regretted that while the Church aims to make her children holy–unlike and apart from the children of the world–not all her children appreciate their superior vocation. From even its imperfect knowledge of Catholic teaching, the world expects the Catholic to be a leader in good example. The Catholic too often, instead of asking himself, “what are the ideals of my glorious Church?” asks himself, “what is the rest of the world doing?” Instead of courageously upholding the sublime principles of the Catholic Faith, there are some who are nervously anxious lest they be judged different from the worldlings around them. “My brethren,” as the Apostle says, “we are a holy people,” that is, “a people apart.” We are in the world religiously what the Jews are racially. Whether we will it or not, as long as we are of the Catholic Church, God has provided that the world will not regard us as other men.
1. I Pet. ii. 9.
2. Levit xxvii. 28,
3. Exod. xiii. 12.
4. I Cor. i. 2; iii. 3.
5. Eph. iv. 15, 16.
6. Ps. Ixxxv. 2.
7. Gal. iii. 27.
8. Eph. v. 26, 27, 30.
9. St. Aug. in Psalm lxxxv. 2.
10. Eph. I. 1-4.
11. Eph. I. 7, 13; v. 26.
12. On the holiness of the Church, see Justin Martyr, in Apologies;
Tertullian, in Apology; Aug. contra Fulg. c. 17; Gregory, Moral. L. 3, 7, c. 7.