The term church (Anglo-Saxon, cirice, circe; Modern German, Kirche; Swedish, Kyrka) is the name employed in the Teutonic languages to render the Greek ekklesia (ecclesia), the term by which the New Testament writers denote the society founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ. The derivation of the word has been much debated. It is now agreed that it is derived from the Greek kyriakon (cyriacon), i.e. the Lord’s house, a term which from the third century was used, as well as ekklesia, to signify a Christian place of worship. This, though the less usual expression, had apparently obtained currency among the Teutonic races. The Northern tribes had been accustomed to pillage the Christian churches of the empire, long before their own conversion. Hence, even prior to the arrival of the Saxons in Britain, their language had acquired words to designate some of the externals of the Christian religion.
The present article is arranged as follows:
- The term Ecclesia
- The Church in prophecy
- Its constitution by Christ; the Church after the Ascension
- Its organization by the Apostles
- The Church, a divine society
- The Church, the necessary means of salvation
- Visibility of the Church
- The principle of authority; infallibility; jurisdiction
- Members of the Church
- Indefectibility of the Church; continuity
- Universality of the Church; the “Branch” Theory
- Notes of the Church
- The Church, a perfect society
The term ecclesia
In order to understand the precise force of this word, something must first be said as to its employment by the Septuagint translators of the Old Testament. Although in one or two places (Psalm 25:5; Judith 6:21; etc.) the word is used without religious signification, merely in the sense of “an assembly”, this is not usually the case. Ordinarily it is employed as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew qahal, i.e., the entire community of the children of Israel viewed in their religious aspect. Two Hebrew words are employed in the Old Testament to signify the congregation of Israel, viz. qahal ‘êdah. In the Septuagint these are rendered, respectively, ekklesia and synagoge. Thus in Proverbs 5:14, where the words occur together, “in the midst of the church and the congregation”, the Greek rendering is en meso ekklesias kai synagoges. The distinction is indeed not rigidly observed — thus in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, both words are regularly represented by synagoge — but it is adhered to in the great majority of cases, and may be regarded as an established rule. In the writings of the New Testament the words are sharply distinguished. With them ecclesia denotes the Church of Christ; synagoga, the Jews still adhering to the worship of the Old Covenant. Occasionally, it is true, ecclesia is employed in its general significance of “assembly” (Acts 19:32; 1 Corinthians 14:19); and synagoga occurs once in reference to a gathering of Christians, though apparently of a non-religious character (James 2:2) But ecclesia is never used by the Apostles to denote the Jewish Church. The word as a technical expression had been transferred to the community of Christian believers.
It has been frequently disputed whether there is any difference in the signification of the two words. St. Augustine (Enarration on Psalm 77) distinguishes them on the ground that ecclesia is indicative of the calling together of men, synagoga of the forcible herding together of irrational creatures: “congregatio magis pecorum convocatio magis hominum intelligi solet”. But it may be doubted whether there is any foundation for this view. It would appear, however, that the term qahal, was used with the special meaning of “those called by God to eternal life”, while ‘êdah, denoted merely “the actually existing Jewish community” (Schürer, Hist. Jewish People, II, 59). Though the evidence for this distinction is drawn from the Mishna, and thus belongs to a somewhat later date, yet the difference in meaning probably existed at the time of Christ’s ministry. But however this may have been, His intention in employing the term, hitherto used of the Hebrew people viewed as a church, to denote the society He Himself was establishing cannot be mistaken. It implied the claim that this society now constituted the true people of God, that the Old Covenant was passing away, and that He, the promised Messias, was inaugurating a New Covenant with a New Israel.
As signifying the Church, the word Ecclesia is used by Christian writers, sometimes in a wider, sometimes in a more restricted sense.
- It is employed to denote all who, from the beginning of the world, have believed in the one true God, and have been made His children by grace. In this sense, it is sometimes distinguished, signifying the Church before the Old Covenant, the Church of the Old Covenant, or the Church of the New Covenant. Thus St. Gregory (Book V, Epistle 18) writes: “Sancti ante legem, sancti sub lege, sancti sub gratiâ, omnes hi . . . in membris Ecclesiæ sunt constituti” (The saints before the Law, the saints under the Law, and the saints under grace — all these are constituted members of the Church).
- It may signify the whole body of the faithful, including not merely the members of the Church who are alive on earth but those, too, whether in heaven or in purgatory, who form part of the one communion of saints. Considered thus, the Church is divided into the Church Militant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Triumphant.
- It is further employed to signify the Church Militant of the New Testament. Even in this restricted acceptation, there is some variety in the use of the term. The disciples of a single locality are often referred to in the New Testament as a Church (Revelation 2:18; Romans 16:4; Acts 9:31), and St. Paul even applies the term to disciples belonging to a single household (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1-2). Moreover, it may designate specially those who exercise the office of teaching and ruling the faithful, the Ecclesia Docens (Matthew 18:17), or again the governed as distinguished from their pastors, the Ecclesia Discens (Acts 20:28). In all these cases the name belonging to the whole is applied to a part. The term, in its full meaning, denotes the whole body of the faithful, both rulers and ruled, throughout the world (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18). It is in this meaning that the Church is treated of in the present article. As thus understood, the definition of the Church given by Bellarmine is that usually adopted by Catholic theologians: “A body of men united together by the profession of the same Christian Faith, and by participation in the same sacraments, under the governance of lawful pastors, more especially of the Roman Pontiff, the sole vicar of Christ on earth” (Coetus hominum ejusdem christianæ fidei professione, et eorumdem sacramentorum communione colligatus, sub regimine legitimorum pastorum et præcipue unius Christi in Terris vicarii Romani Pontificis. — Bellarmine, De Eccl., III, ii, 9). The accuracy of this definition will appear in the course of the article.
The Church in prophecy
Hebrew prophecy relates in almost equal proportions to the person and to the work of the Messias. This work was conceived as consisting of the establishment of a kingdom, in which he was to reign over a regenerated Israel. The prophetic writings describe for us with precision many of the characteristics which were to distinguish that kingdom. Christ during His ministry affirmed not only that the prophecies relating to the Messias were fulfilled in His own person, but also that the expected Messianic kingdom was none other than His Church. A consideration of the features of the kingdom as depicted by the Prophets, must therefore greatly assist us in understanding Christ’s intentions in the institution of the Church. Indeed many of the expressions employed by Him in relation to the society He was establishing are only intelligible in the Light of these prophecies and of the consequent expectations of the Jewish people. It will moreover appear that we have a weighty argument for the supernatural character of the Christian revelation in the precise fulfillment of the sacred oracles.
A characteristic feature of the Messianic kingdom, as predicted, is its universal extent. Not merely the twelve tribes, but the Gentiles are to yield allegiance to the Son of David. All kings are to serve and obey him; his dominion is to extend to the ends of the earth (Psalm 21:28 sq.; 2:7-12; 116:1; Zechariah 9:10). Another series of remarkable passages declares that the subject nations will possess the unity conferred by a common faith and a common worship — a feature represented under the striking image of the concourse of all peoples and nations to worship at Jerusalem. “It shall come to pass in the last days (i.e. in the Messianic Era] . . . that many nations shall say: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways and we will walk in his paths; for the law shall go forth out of Sion, and the word of the Lord out of Jerusalem” (Micah 4:1-2; cf. Isaiah 2:2; Zechariah 8:3). This unity of worship is to be the fruit of a Divine revelation common to all the inhabitants of the earth (Zechariah 14:8).
Corresponding to the triple office of the Messias as priest, prophet, and king, it will be noted that in relation to the kingdom the Sacred Writings lay stress on three points:
- it is to be endowed with a new and peculiar sacrificial system
- it is to be the kingdom of truth possessed of a Divine revelation
- it is to be governed by an authority emanating from the Messias.
In regard to the first of these points, the priesthood of the Messias Himself is explicitly stated (Psalm 109:4); while it is further taught that the worship which He is to inaugurate shall supersede the sacrifices of the Old Dispensation. This is implied, as the Apostle tells us, in the very title, “a priest after the order of Melchisedech”; and the same truth is contained in the prediction that a new priesthood is to be formed, drawn from other peoples besides the Israelites (Isaiah 66:18), and in the words of the Prophet Malachias which foretell the institution of a new sacrifice to be offered “from the rising of the sun even to the going down” (Malachi 1:11). The sacrifices offered by the priesthood of the Messianic kingdom are to endure as long as day and night shall last (Jeremiah 33:20).
The revelation of the Divine truth under the New Dispensation attested by Jeremias: “Behold the days shall come saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Juda . . . and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, saying: Know the Lord: for all shall know me from the least of them even to the greatest” (Jeremiah 31:31, 34), while Zacharias assures us that in those days Jerusalem shall be known as the city of truth. (Zechariah 8:3).
The passages which foretell that the Kingdom will possess a peculiar principle of authority in the personal rule of the Messias are numerous (e.g. Psalms 2 and 71; Isaiah 9:6 sq.); but in relation to Christ’s own words, it is of interest to observe that in some of these passages the prediction is expressed under the metaphor of a shepherd guiding and governing his flock (Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24-28). It is noteworthy, moreover, that just as the prophecies in regard to the priestly office foretell the appointment of a priesthood subordinate to the Messias, so those which relate to the office of government indicate that the Messias will associate with Himself other “shepherds”, and will exercise His authority over the nations through rulers delegated to govern in His name (Jeremiah 18:6; Psalm 44:17; cf. St. Augustine, Enarration on Psalm 44, no. 32). Another feature of the kingdom is to be the sanctity of its members. The way to it is to be called “the holy way: the unclean shall not pass over it”. The uncircumcised and unclean are not to enter into the renewed Jerusalem (Isaiah 35:8; 52:1).
The later uninspired apocalyptic literature of the Jews shows us how profoundly these predictions had influenced their national hopes, and explains for us the intense expectation among the populace described in the Gospel narratives. In these works as in the inspired prophecies the traits of the Messianic kingdom present two very different aspects. On the one hand, the Messias is a Davidic king who gathers together the dispersed of Israel, and establishes on this earth a kingdom of purity and sinlessness (Psalms of Solomon, xvii). The foreign foe is to be subdued (Assumpt. Moses, c. x) and the wicked are to be judged in the valley of the son of Hinnon (Enoch, xxv, xxvii, xc). On the other hand, the kingdom is described in eschatological characters. The Messias is pre-existent and Divine (Enoch, Simil., xlviii, 3); the kingdom He establishes is to be a heavenly kingdom inaugurated by a great world-catastrophe, which separates this world (aion outos), from the world to come (mellon). This catastrophe is to be accompanied by a judgment both of angels and of men (Jubilees, x, 8; v, 10; Assumpt. Moses, x, 1). The dead will rise (Psalms of Solomon, 3.11) and all the members of the Messianic kingdom will become like to the Messias (Enoch, Simil., xc, 37). This twofold aspect of the Jewish hopes in regard to the coming Messias must be borne in mind, if Christ’s use of the expression “Kingdom of God” is to be understood. Not infrequently, it is true, He employs it in an eschatological sense. But far more commonly He uses it of the kingdom set up on this earth — of His Church. These are indeed, not two kingdoms, but one. The Kingdom of God to be established at the last day is the Church in her final triumph.
Constitution by Christ
The Baptist proclaimed the near approach of the Kingdom of God, and of the Messianic Era. He bade all who would share its blessings prepare themselves by penance. His own mission, he said, was to prepare the way of the Messias. To his disciples he indicated Jesus of Nazareth as the Messias whose advent he had declared (John 1:29-31). From the very commencement of His ministry Christ laid claim in an explicit way to the Messianic dignity. In the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:21) He asserts that the prophecies are fulfilled in His person; He declares that He is greater than Solomon (Luke 11:31), more venerable than the Temple (Matthew 12:6), Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5). John, He says, is Elias, the promised forerunner (Matthew 17:12); and to John’s messengers He vouchsafes the proofs of His Messianic dignity which they request (Luke 7:22). He demands implicit faith on the ground of His Divine legation (John 6:29). His public entry into Jerusalem was the acceptance by the whole people of a claim again and again reiterated before them. The theme of His preaching throughout is the Kingdom of God which He has come to establish. St. Mark, describing the beginning of His ministry, says that He came into Galilee saying, “The time is accomplished, and the Kingdom of God is at hand”. For the kingdom which He was even then establishing in their midst, the Law and the Prophets had been, He said, but a preparation (Luke 16:16; cf. Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 13:17; 21:43; 24:14; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 9:2, 60; 18:17).
When it is asked what is this kingdom of which Christ spoke, there can be but one answer. It is His Church, the society of those who accept His Divine legation, and admit His right to the obedience of faith which He claimed. His whole activity is directed to the establishment of such a society: He organizes it and appoints rulers over it, establishes rites and ceremonies in it, transfers to it the name which had hitherto designated the Jewish Church, and solemnly warns the Jews that the kingdom was no longer theirs, but had been taken from them and given to another people. The several steps taken by Christ in organizing the Church are traced by the Evangelists. He is represented as gathering numerous disciples, but as selecting twelve from their number to be His companions in an especial manner. These share His life. To them He reveals the more hidden parts of His doctrine (Matthew 13:11). He sends them as His deputies to preach the kingdom, and bestows on them the power to work miracles. All are bound to accept their message; and those who refuse to listen to them shall meet a fate more terrible than that of Sodom and Gomorrha (Matthew 10:1-15). The Sacred Writers speak of these twelve chosen disciples in a manner indicating that they are regarded as forming a corporate body. In several passages they are still termed “the twelve” even when the number, understood literally, would be inexact. The name is applied to them when they have been reduced to eleven by the defection of Judas, on an occasion when only ten of them were present, and again after the appointment of St. Paul has increased their number to thirteen (Luke 24:33; John 20:24; 1 Corinthians 15:5; Revelation 21:14).
In this constitution of the Apostolate Christ lays the foundation of His Church. But it is not till the action of official Judaism had rendered it manifestly impossible to hope the Jewish Church would admit His claim, that He prescribes for the Church as a body independent of the synagogue and possessed of an administration of her own. After the breach had become definite, He calls the Apostles together and speaks to them of the judicial action of the Church, distinguishing, in an unmistakable manner, between the private individual who undertakes the work of fraternal correction, and the ecclesiastical authority empowered to pronounce a judicial sentence (Matthew 18:15-17). To the jurisdiction thus conferred He attached a Divine sanction. A sentence thus pronounced, He assured the Apostles, should be ratified in heaven. A further step was the appointment of St. Peter to be the chief of the Twelve. For this position he had already been designated (Matthew 16:15 sqq.) on an occasion previous to that just mentioned: at Cæsarea Philippi, Christ had declared him to be the rock on which He would build His Church, thus affirming that the continuance and increase of the Church would rest on the office created in the person of Peter. To him, moreover, were to be given the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven — an expression signifying the gift of plenary authority (Isaiah 22:22). The promise thus made was fulfilled after the Resurrection, on the occasion narrated in John 21. Here Christ employs a simile used on more than one occasion by Himself to denote His own relation to the members of His Church — that of the shepherd and his flock. His solemn charge, “Feed my sheep”, constituted Peter the common shepherd of the whole collective flock. (For a further consideration of the Petrine texts see article PRIMACY.) To the twelve Christ committed the charge of spreading the kingdom among all nations, appointing the rite of baptism as the one means of admission to a participation in its privileges (Matthew 28:19).
In the course of this article detailed consideration will be given to the principal characteristics of the Church. Christ’s teaching on this point may be briefly summarized here. It is to be a kingdom ruled in His absence by men (Matthew 18:18; John 21:17). It is therefore a visible theocracy; and it will be substituted for the Jewish theocracy that has rejected Him (Matthew 21:43). In it, until the day of judgment, the bad will be mingled with the good (Matthew 13:41). Its extent will be universal (Matthew 28:19), and its duration to the end of time (Matthew 13:49); all powers that oppose it shall be crushed (Matthew 21:44). Moreover, it will be a supernatural kingdom of truth, in the world, though not of it (John 18:36). It will be one and undivided, and this unity shall be a witness to all men that its founder came from God (John 17:21).
It is to be noticed that certain recent critics contest the positions maintained in the preceding paragraphs. They deny alike that Christ claimed to be the Messias, and that the kingdom of which He spoke was His Church. Thus, as regards Christ’s claim to Messianic dignity, they say that Christ does not declare Himself to be the Messias in His preaching: that He bids the possessed who proclaimed Him the Son of God be silent: that the people did not suspect His Messiahship, but formed various extravagant hypotheses as to his personality. It is manifestly impossible within the limits of this article to enter on a detailed discussion of these points. But, in the light of the testimony of the passages above cited, it will be seen that the position is entirely untenable. In reference to the Kingdom of God, many of the critics hold that the current Jewish conception was wholly eschatological, and that Christ’s references to it must one and all be thus interpreted. This view renders inexplicable the numerous passages in which Christ speaks of the kingdom as present, and further involves a misconception as to the nature of Jewish expectations, which, as has been seen, together with eschatological traits, contained others of a different character. Harnack (What is Christianity? p. 62) holds that in its inner meaning the kingdom as conceived by Christ is “a purely religious blessing, the inner link of the soul with the living God”. Such an interpretation can in no possible way be reconciled with Christ’s utterances on the subject. The whole tenor of his expressions is to lay stress on the concept of a theocratic society.
The Church after the Ascension
The doctrine of the Church as set forth by the Apostles after the Ascension is in all respects identical with the teaching of Christ just described. St. Peter, in his first sermon, delivered on the day of Pentecost, declares that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messianic king (Acts 2:36). The means of salvation which he indicates is baptism; and by baptism his converts are aggregated to the society of disciples (Acts 2:41). Though in these days the Christians still availed themselves of the Temple services, yet from the first the brotherhood of Christ formed a society essentially distinct from the synagogue. The reason why St. Peter bids his hearers accept baptism is none other than that they may “save themselves from this unbelieving generation”. Within the society of believers not only were the members united by common rites, but the tie of unity was so close as to bring about in the Church of Jerusalem that condition of things in which the disciples had all things common (2:44).
Christ had declared that His kingdom should be spread among all nations, and had committed the execution of the work to the twelve (Matthew 28:19). Yet the universal mission of the Church revealed itself but gradually. St. Peter indeed makes mention of it from the first (Acts 2:39). But in the earliest years the Apostolic activity is confined to Jerusalem alone. Indeed an old tradition (Apollonius, cited by Eusebius Church History V.17, and Clement of Alexandria, Stromata VI.5) asserts that Christ had bidden the Apostles wait twelve years in Jerusalem before dispersing to carry their message elsewhere. The first notable advance occurs consequent on the persecution which arose after the death of Stephen, A.D. 37. This was the occasion of the preaching of the Gospel to the Samaritans, a people excluded from the privileges of Israel, though acknowledging the Mosaic Law (Acts 8:5). A still further expansion resulted from the revelation directing St. Peter to admit to baptism Cornelius, a devout Gentile, i.e. one associated to the Jewish religion but not circumcised. From this time forward circumcision and the observance of the Law were not a condition requisite for incorporation into the Church. But the final step of admitting those Gentiles who had known no previous connection with the religion of Israel, and whose life had been spent in paganism, was not taken till more than fifteen years after Christ’s Ascension; it did not occur, it would seem, before the day described in Acts 13:46, when, at Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas announced that since the Jews accounted themselves unworthy of eternal life they would “turn to the Gentiles”.
In the Apostolic teaching the term Church, from the very first, takes the place of the expression Kingdom of God (Acts 5:11). Where others than the Jews were concerned, the greater suitability of the former name is evident; for Kingdom of God had special reference to Jewish beliefs. But the change of title only emphasizes the social unity of the members. They are the new congregation of Israel — the theocratic polity: they are the people (laos) of God (Acts 15:14; Romans 9:25; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9 sq.; Hebrews 8:10; Revelation 18:4; 21:3). By their admission to the Church, the Gentiles have been grafted in and form part of God’s fruitful olive-tree, while apostate Israel has been broken off (Romans 11:24). St. Paul, writing to his Gentile converts at Corinth, terms the ancient Hebrew Church “our fathers” (1 Corinthians 10:1). Indeed from time to time the previous phraseology is employed, and the Gospel message is termed the preaching of the Kingdom of God (Acts 20:25; 28:31).
Within the Church the Apostles exercised that regulative power with which Christ had endowed them. It was no chaotic mob, but a true society possessed of a corporate life, and organized in various orders. The evidence shows the twelve to have possessed (a) a power of jurisdiction, in virtue of which they wielded a legislative and judicial authority, and (b) a magisterial office to teach the Divine revelation entrusted to them. Thus (a) we find St. Paul authoritatively prescribing for the order and discipline of the churches. He does not advise; he directs (1 Corinthians 11:34; 16:1; Titus 1:5). He pronounces judicial sentence (1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 2:10), and his sentences, like those of other Apostles, receive at times the solemn sanction of miraculous punishment (1 Timothy 1:20; Acts 5:1-10). In like manner he bids his delegate Timothy hear the causes even of priests, and rebuke, in the sight of all, those who sin (1 Timothy 5:19 sq.). (b) With no less definiteness does he assert that the Apostolate carries with it a doctrinal authority, which all are bound to recognize. God has sent them, he affirms, to claim “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 15:18). Further, his solemnly expressed desire, that even if an angel from heaven were to preach another doctrine to the Galatians than that which he had delivered to them, he should be anathema (Galatians 1:8), involves a claim to infallibility in the teaching of revealed truth.
While the whole Apostolic College enjoyed this power in the Church, St. Peter always appears in that position of primacy which Christ assigned to him. It is Peter who receives into the Church the first converts, alike from Judaism and from heathenism (Acts 2:41; 10:5 sq.), who works the first miracle (Acts 3:1 sqq.), who inflicts the first ecclesiastical penalty (Acts 5:1 sqq.). It is Peter who casts out of the Church the first heretic, Simon Magus (Acts 8:21), who makes the first Apostolic visitation of the churches (Acts 9:32), and who pronounces the first dogmatic decision (Acts 15:7). (See Schanz, III, p. 460.) So indisputable was his position that when St. Paul was about to undertake the work of preaching to the heathen the Gospel which Christ had revealed to him, he regarded it as necessary to obtain recognition from Peter (Galatians 1:18). More than this was not needful: for the approbation of Peter was definitive.
Organization by the apostles
Few subjects have been so much debated during the past half-century as the organization of the primitive Church. The present article cannot deal with the whole of this wide subject. Its scope is limited to a single point. An endeavour will be made to estimate the existing information regarding the Apostolic Age itself. Further light is thrown on the matter by a consideration of the organization that is found to have existed in the period immediately subsequent to the death of the last Apostle. (See BISHOP.) The independent evidence derived from the consideration of each of these periods will, in the opinion of the present writer, be found, when fairly weighed, to yield similar results. Thus the conclusions here advanced, over and above their intrinsic value, derive support from the independent witness of another series of authorities tending in all essentials to confirm their accuracy. The question at issue is, whether the Apostles did, or did not, establish in the Christian communities a hierarchical organization. All Catholic scholars, together with some few Protestants, hold that they did so. The opposite view is maintained by the rationalist critics, together with the greater number of Protestants.
In considering the evidence of the New Testament on the subject, it appears at once that there is a marked difference between the state of things revealed in the later New Testament writings, and that which appears in those of an earlier date. In the earlier writings we find but little mention of an official organization. Such official positions as may have existed would seem to have been of minor importance in the presence of the miraculous charismata of the Holy Spirit conferred upon individuals, and fitting them to act as organs of the community in various grades. St. Paul in his earlier Epistles has no messages for the bishops or deacons, although the circumstances dealt with in the Epistles to the Corinthians and in that to the Galatians would seem to suggest a reference to the local rulers of the Church. When he enumerates the various functions to which God has called various members of the Church, he does not give us a list of Church offices. “God”, he says, “hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors [didaskaloi]; after that miracles; then the graces of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28). This is not a list of official designations. It is a list of “charismata” bestowed by the Holy Spirit, enabling the recipient to fulfill some special function. The only term which forms an exception to this is that of apostle. Here the word is doubtless used in the sense in which it signifies the twelve and St. Paul only. As thus applied the Apostolate was a distinct office, involving a personal mission received from the Risen Lord Himself (1 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1). Such a position was of altogether too special a character for its recipients to be placed in any other category. The term could indeed be used in a wider reference. It is used of Barnabas (Acts 14:13) and of Andronicus and Junias, St. Paul’s kinsmen (Romans 16:7). In this extended signification it is apparently equivalent to evangelist (Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5) and denotes those “apostolic men”, who, like the Apostles, went from place to place labouring in new fields, but who had received their commission from them, and not from Christ in person. (See APOSTLES.)
The “prophets”, the second class mentioned, were men to whom it was given to speak from time to time under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit as the recipients of supernatural inspiration (Acts 13:2; 15:23; 21:11; etc.). By the nature of the case the exercise of such a function could be occasional only. The “charisma” of the “doctors” (or teachers) differed from that of the prophets, in that it could be used continuously. They had received the gift of intelligent insight into revealed truth, and the power to impart it to others. It is manifest that those who possessed such a power must have exercised a function of vital moment to the Church in those first days, when the Christian communities consisted to so large an extent of new converts. The other “charismata” mentioned do not call for special notice. But the prophets and teachers would appear to have possessed an importance as organs of the community, eclipsing that of the local ministry. Thus in Acts 13:1, it is simply related that there were in the Church which was at Antioch prophets and doctors. There is no mention of bishops or deacons. And in the Didache — a work as it would seem of the first century, written before the last Apostle had passed away — the author enjoins respect for the bishops and deacons, on the ground that they have a claim similar to that of the prophets and doctors. “Appoint for yourselves”, he writes, “bishops and deacons, worthy of the Lord, men who are meek, and not lovers of money, and true and approved; for unto you they also perform the service [leitourgousi ten leitourgian] of the prophets and doctors. Therefore despise them not: for they are your honourable men along with the prophets and teachers” (Acts 15).
It would appear, then, indisputable that in the earliest years of the Christian Church ecclesiastical functions were in a large measure fulfilled by men who had been specially endowed for this purpose with “charismata” of the Holy Spirit, and that as long as these gifts endured, the local ministry occupied a position of less importance and influence. Yet, though this be the case, there would seem to be ample ground for holding that the local ministry was of Apostolic institution: and, further, that towards the later part of the Apostolic Age the abundant “charismata” were ceasing, and that the Apostles themselves took measures to determine the position of the official hierarchy as the directive authority of the Church. The evidence for the existence of such a local ministry is plentiful in the later Epistles of St. Paul (Philippians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus). The Epistle to the Philippians opens with a special greeting to the bishops and deacons. Those who hold these official positions are recognized as the representatives in some sort of the Church. Throughout the letter there is no mention of the “charismata”, which figure so largely in the earlier Epistles. It is indeed urged by Hort (Christian Ecclesia, p. 211) that even here these terms are not official titles. But in view of their employment as titles in documents so nearly contemporary, as the Epistle of Clement 4 and the Didache, such a contention seems devoid of all probability.
In the Pastoral Epistles the new situation appears even more clearly. The purpose of these writings was to instruct Timothy and Titus regarding the manner in which they were to organize the local Churches. The total absence of all reference to the spiritual gifts can scarcely be otherwise explained than by supposing that they no longer existed in the communities, or that they were at most exceptional phenomena. Instead, we find the Churches governed by a hierarchical organization of bishops, sometimes also termed presbyters, and deacons. That the terms bishop and presbyter are synonymous is evident from Titus 1:5-7: “I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest . . . ordain priests in every city . . . For a bishop must be without crime.” These presbyters form a corporate body (1 Timothy 4:14), and they are entrusted with the twofold charge of governing the Church (1 Timothy 3:5) and of teaching (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9). The selection of those who are to fill this post does not depend on the possession of supernatural gifts. It is required that they should not be unproved neophytes, that they should be under no charge, should have displayed moral fitness for the work, and should be capable of teaching. (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:5-9) The appointment to this office was by a solemn laying on of hands (1 Timothy 5:22). Some words addressed by St. Paul to Timothy, in reference to the ceremony as it had taken place in Timothy’s case, throw light upon its nature. “I admonish thee”, he writes, “that thou stir up the grace (charisma) of God, which is in thee by the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). The rite is here declared to be the means by which a charismatic gift is conferred; and, further, the gift in question, like the baptismal character, is permanent in its effects. The recipient needs but to “waken into life” [anazopyrein] the grace he thus possesses in order to avail himself of it. It is an abiding endowment. There can be no reason for asserting that the imposition of hands, by which Timothy was instructed to appoint the presbyters to their office, was a rite of a different character, a mere formality without practical import.
With the evidence before us, certain other notices in the New Testament writings, pointing to the existence of this local ministry, may be considered. There is mention of presbyters at Jerusalem at a date apparently immediately subsequent to the dispersion of the Apostles (Acts 11:30; cf. 15:2; 16:4; 21:18). Again, we are told that Paul and Barnabas, as they retraced their steps on their first missionary journey, appointed presbyters in every Church (Acts 14:22). So too the injunction to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:12) to have regard to those who are over them in the Lord (proistamenoi; cf. Romans 12:6) would seem to imply that there also St. Paul had invested certain members of the community with a pastoral charge. Still more explicit is the evidence contained in the account of St. Paul’s interview with the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17-23). It is told that, sending from Miletus to Ephesus, he summoned “the presbyters of the Church”, and in the course of his charge addressed them as follows: “Take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost has placed you bishops to tend [poimainein] the Church of God” (20:28). St. Peter employs similar language: “The presbyters that are among you, I beseech, who am myself also a presbyter . . . tend [poimainein] the flock of God which is among you.” These expressions leave no doubt as to the office designated by St. Paul, when in Ephesians 4:11, he enumerates the gifts of the Ascended Lord as follows: “He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors [tous de poimenas kai didaskalous]. The Epistle of St. James provides us with yet another reference to this office, where the sick man is bidden send for the presbyters of the Church, that he may receive at their hands the rite of unction (James 5:14).
The term presbyter was of common use in the Jewish Church, as denoting the “rulers” of the synagogue (cf. Luke 13:14). Hence it has been argued by some non-Catholic writers that in the bishops and deacons of the New Testament there is simply the synagogal organization familiar to the first converts, and introduced by them into the Christian communities. St. Paul’s concept of the Church, it is urged, is essentially opposed to any rigid governmental system; yet this familiar form of organization was gradually established even in the Churches he had founded. In regard to this view it appears enough to say that the resemblance between the Jewish “rulers of the synagogue” and the Christian presbyter-episcopus goes no farther than the name. The Jewish official was purely civil and held office for a time only. The Christian presbyterate was for life, and its functions were spiritual. There is perhaps more ground for the view advocated by some (cf. de Smedt, Revue des quest. hist., vols. XLIV, L), that presbyter and episcopus may not in all cases be perfectly synonymous. The term presbyter is undoubtedly an honorific title, while that of episcopus primarily indicates the function performed. It is possible that the former title may have had a wider significance than the latter. The designation presbyter, it is suggested, may have been given to all those who were recognized as having a claim to some voice in directing the affairs of the community, whether this were based on official status, or social rank, or benefactions to the local Church, or on some other ground; while those presbyters who had received the laying on of hands would be known, not simply as “presbyters”, but as “presiding [proistamenoi — 1 Thessalonians 5:12) presbyters”, “presbyter-bishops”, “presbyter-rulers” (hegoumenoi — Hebrews 13:17).
It remains to consider whether the so-called “monarchical” episcopate was instituted by the Apostles. Besides establishing a college of presbyter-bishops, did they further place one man in a position of supremacy, entrusting the government of the Church to him, and endowing him with Apostolic authority over the Christian community? Even if we take into account the Scriptural evidence alone, there are sufficient grounds for answering this question in the affirmative. From the time of the dispersion of the Apostles, St. James appears in an episcopal relation to the Church of Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13; Galatians 2:12). In the other Christian communities the institution of “monarchical” bishops was a somewhat later development. At first the Apostles themselves fulfilled, it would seem, all the duties of supreme oversight. They established the office when the growing needs of the Church demanded it. The Pastoral Epistles leave no room to doubt that Timothy and Titus were sent as bishops to Ephesus and to Crete respectively. To Timothy full Apostolic powers are conceded. Notwithstanding his youth he holds authority over both clergy and laity. To him is confided the duty of guarding the purity of the Church’s faith, of ordaining priests, of exercising jurisdiction. Moreover, St. Paul’s exhortation to him, “to keep the commandment without spot, blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” shows that this was no transitory mission. A charge so worded includes in its sweep, not Timothy alone, but his successors in an office which is to last until the Second Advent. Local tradition unhesitatingly reckoned him among the occupants of the episcopal see. At the Council of Chalcedon, the Church of Ephesus counted a succession of twenty-seven bishops commencing with Timothy (Mansi, VII, 293; cf. Eusebius, Church History III.4-5).
These are not the sole evidences which the New Testament affords of the monarchical episcopate. In the Apocalypse the “angels” to whom the letters to the seven Churches are addressed are almost certainly the bishops of the respective communities. Some commentators, indeed, have held them to be personifications of the communities themselves. But this explanation can hardly stand. St. John, throughout, addresses the angel as being responsible for the community precisely as he would address its ruler. Moreover, in the symbolism of chapter 1, the two are represented under different figures: the angels are the stars in the right hand of the Son of Man; the seven candlesticks are the image which figures the communities. The very term angel, it should be noticed, is practically synonymous with apostle, and thus is aptly chosen to designate the episcopal office. Again the messages to Archippus (Colossians 4:17; Philemon 2) imply that he held a position of special dignity, superior to that of the other presbyters. The mention of him in a letter entirely concerned with a private matter, as is that to Philemon, is hardly explicable unless he were the official head of the Colossian Church. We have therefore four important indications of the existence of an office in the local Churches, held by a single person, and carrying with it Apostolical authority. Nor can any difficulty be occasioned by the fact that as yet no special title distinguishes these successors of the Apostles from the ordinary presbyters. It is in the nature of things that the office should exist before a title is assigned to it. The name of apostle, we have seen, was not confined to the Twelve. St. Peter (1 Peter 5:1) and St. John (2 and 3 John 1:1) both speak of themselves as presbyters”. St. Paul speaks of the Apostolate as a diakonia. A parallel case in later ecclesiastical history is afforded by the word pope. This title was not appropriated to the exclusive use of the Holy See till the eleventh century. Yet no one maintains that the supreme pontificate of the Roman bishop was not recognized till then. It should cause no surprise that a precise terminology, distinguishing bishops, in the full sense, from the presbyter-bishops, is not found in the New Testament.
The conclusion reached is put beyond all reasonable doubt by the testimony of the sub-Apostolic Age. This is so important in regard to the question of the episcopate that it is impossible entirely to pass it over. It will be enough, however, to refer to the evidence contained in the epistles of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, himself a disciple of the Apostles. In these epistles (about A.D. 107) he again and again asserts that the supremacy of the bishop is of Divine institution and belongs to the Apostolic constitution of the Church. He goes so far as to affirm that the bishop stands in the place of Christ Himself. “When ye are obedient to the bishop as to Jesus Christ,” he writes to the Trallians, “it is evident to me that ye are living not after men, but after Jesus Christ. . . be ye obedient also to the presbytery as to the Apostles of Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Trallians 2). He also incidentally tells us that bishops are found in the Church, even in “the farthest parts of the earth” (Letter to the Ephesians 3) It is out of the question that one who lived at a period so little removed from the actual Apostolic Age could have proclaimed this doctrine in terms such as he employs, had not the episcopate been universally recognized as of Divine appointment. It has been seen that Christ not only established the episcopate in the persons of the Twelve but, further, created in St. Peter the office of supreme pastor of the Church. Early Christian history tells us that before his death, he fixed his residence at Rome, and ruled the Church there as its bishop. It is from Rome that he dates his first Epistle, speaking of the city under the name of Babylon, a designation which St. John also gives it in the Apocalypse (c. xviii). At Rome, too, he suffered martyrdom in company with St. Paul, A.D. 67. The list of his successors in the see is known, from Linus, Anacletus, and Clement, who were the first to follow him, down to the reigning pontiff. The Church has ever seen in the occupant of the See of Rome the successor of Peter in the supreme pastorate.
The evidence thus far considered seems to demonstrate beyond all question that the hierarchical organization of the Church was, in its essential elements, the work of the Apostles themselves; and that to this hierarchy they handed on the charge entrusted to them by Christ of governing the Kingdom of God, and of teaching the revealed doctrine. These conclusions are far from being admitted by Protestant and other critics. They are unanimous in holding that the idea of a Church — an organized society — is entirely foreign to the teaching of Christ. It is therefore, in their eyes, impossible that Catholicism, if by that term we signify a worldwide institution, bound together by unity of constitution, of doctrine, and of worship, can have been established by the direct action of the Apostles. In the course of the nineteenth century many theories were propounded to account for the transformation of the so-called “Apostolic Christianity” into the Christianity of the commencement of the third century, when beyond all dispute the Catholic system was firmly established from one end of the Roman Empire to the other. At the present day (1908) the theories advocated by the critics are of a less extravagant nature than those of F.C. Baur (1853) and the Tübingen School, which had so great a vogue in the middle of the nineteenth century. Greater regard is shown for the claims of historical possibility and for the value of early Christian evidences. At the same time it is to be observed that the reconstructions suggested involve the rejection of the Pastoral Epistles as being documents of the second century. It will be sufficient here to notice one or two salient points in the views which now find favour with the best known among non-Catholic writers.
- It is held that such official organization as existed in the Christian communities was not regarded as involving special spiritual gifts, and had but little religious significance. Some writers, as has been seen, believe with Holtzmann that in the episcopi and presbyteri, there is simply the synagogal system of archontes and hyperetai. Others, with Hatch, derive the origin of the episcopate from the fact that certain civic functionaries in the Syrian cities appear to have borne the title of “episcopi”. Professor Harnack, while agreeing with Hatch as to the origin of the office, differs from him in so far as he admits that from the first the superintendence of worship belonged to the functions of the bishop. The offices of prophet and teacher, it is urged, were those in which the primitive Church acknowledged a spiritual significance. These depended entirely on special charismatic gifts of the Holy Ghost. The government of the Church in matters of religion was thus regarded as a direct Divine rule by the Holy Spirit, acting through His inspired agents. And only gradually, it is supposed, did the local ministry take the place of the prophets and teachers, and inherit from them the authority once attributed to the possessors of spiritual gifts alone (cf. Sabatier, Religions of Authority, p. 24). Even if we prescind altogether from the evidence considered above, this theory appears devoid of intrinsic probability. A direct Divine rule by “charismata” could only result in confusion, if uncontrolled by any directive power possessed of superior authority. Such a directive and regulative authority, to which the exercise of spiritual gifts was itself subject, existed in the Apostolate, as the New Testament amply shows (1 Corinthians 14). In the succeeding age a precisely similar authority is found in the episcopate. Every principle of historical criticism demands that the source of episcopal power should be sought, not in the “charismata”, but, where tradition places it, in the Apostolate itself.
- It is to the crisis occasioned by Gnosticism and Montanism in the second century that these writers attribute the rise of the Catholic system. They say that, in order to combat these heresies, the Church found it necessary to federate itself, and that for this end it established a statutory, so-called “apostolic” faith, and further secured the episcopal supremacy by the fiction of “apostolic succession”, (Harnack, Hist. of Dogma, II, ii; Sabatier, op. cit., pp. 35-59). This view appears to be irreconcilable with the facts of the case. The evidence of the Ignatian epistles alone shows that, long before the Gnostic crisis arose, the particular local Churches were conscious of an essential principle of solidarity binding all together into a single system. Moreover, the very fact that these heresies gained no foothold within the Church in any part of the world, but were everywhere recognized as heretical and promptly excluded, suffices to prove that the Apostolic faith was already clearly known and firmly held, and that the Churches were already organized under an active episcopate. Again, to say that the doctrine of Apostolic succession was invented to cope with these heresies is to overlook the fact that it is asserted in plain terms in the Epistle of Clement 42.
M. Loisy’s theory as to the organization of the Church has attracted so much attention in recent years as to call for a brief notice. In his work, “L’Evangile et l’Église”, he accepts many of the views held by critics hostile to Catholicism and endeavours by a doctrine of development to reconcile them with some form of adhesion to the Church. He urges that the Church is of the nature of an organism, whose animating principle is the message of Jesus Christ. This organism may experience many changes of external form, as it develops itself in accordance with its inner needs, and with the requirements of its environment. Yet so long as these changes are such as are demanded in order that the vital principle may be preserved, they are unessential in character. So far indeed are they from being organic alterations, that we ought to reckon them as implicitly involved in the very being of the Church. The formation of the hierarchy he regards as a change of this kind. In fact, since he holds that Jesus Christ mistakenly anticipated the end of the world to be close at hand, and that His first disciples lived in expectation of His immediate return in glory, it follows that the hierarchy must have had some such origin as this. It is out of the question to attribute it to the Apostles. Men who believed the end of the world to be impending would not have seen the necessity of endowing a society with a form of government intended to endure.
These revolutionary views constitute part of the theory known as Modernism, whose philosophical presuppositions involve the complete denial of the miraculous. The Church, according to this theory, is not a society established by eternal Divine interposition. It is a society expressing the religious experience of the collectivity of consciences, and owing its origin to two natural tendencies in men, viz. the tendency of the individual believer to communicate his beliefs to others, and the tendency of those who hold the same beliefs to unite in a society. The Modernist theories were analyzed and condemned as “the synthesis of all the heresies” in the Encyclical “Pascendi Dominici gregis” (18 September, 1907). The principal features of M. Loisy’s theory of the Church had been already included among the condemned propositions contained in the Decree “Lamentabili” (3 July, 1907). The fifty-third of the propositions there singled out for reprobation is the following: “The original constitution of the Church is not immutable; but the Christian society like human society is subject to perpetual change.”
The Church, a divine society
The church, as has been seen, is a society formed of living men, not a mere mystical union of souls. As such it resembles other societies. Like them, it has its code of rules, its executive officers, its ceremonial observances. Yet it differs from them more than it resembles them: for it is a supernatural society. The Kingdom of God is supernatural alike in its origin, in the purpose at which it aims, and in the means at its disposal. Other kingdoms are natural in their origin; and their scope is limited to the temporal welfare of their citizens. The supernatural character of the Church is seen, when its relation to the redemptive work of Christ is considered. It is the society of those whom He has redeemed from the world. The world, by which term are signified men in so far as they have fallen from God, is ever set forth in Scripture as the kingdom of the Evil One. It is the “world of darkness” (Ephesians 6:12), it is “seated in the wicked one” (1 John 5:19), it hates Christ (John 15:18). To save the world, God the Son became man. He offered Himself as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). God, Who desires that all men should be saved, has offered salvation to all; but the greater part of mankind rejects the proffered gift. The Church is the society of those who accept redemption, of those whom Christ “has chosen out of the world” (John 15:19). Thus it is the Church alone which He “hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Of the members of the Church, the Apostle can say that “God hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love” (Colossians 1:13). St. Augustine terms the Church “mundus salvatus” — the redeemed world — and speaking of the enmity borne towards the Church by those who reject her, says: “The world of perdition hates the world of salvation” (Tractate 80 on the Gospel of John, no. 2). To the Church Christ has given the means of grace He merited by His life and death. She communicates them to her members; and those who are outside her fold she bids to enter that they too may participate in them. By these means of grace — the light of revealed truth, the sacraments, the perpetual renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary — the Church carries on the work of sanctifying the elect. Through their instrumentality each individual soul is perfected, and conformed to the likeness of the Son of God.
It is thus manifest that, when we regard the Church simply as the society of disciples, we are considering its external form only. Its inward life is found in the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the gifts of faith, hope, and charity, the grace communicated by the sacraments, and the other prerogatives by which the children of God differ from the children of the world. This aspect of the Church is described by the Apostles in figurative language. They represent it as the Body of Christ, the Spouse of Christ, the Temple of God. In order to understand its true nature some consideration of these comparisons is requisite. In the conception of the Church as a body governed and directed by Christ as the head, far more is contained than the familiar analogy between a ruler and his subjects on the one hand, and the head guiding and coordinating the activities of the several members on the other. That analogy expresses indeed the variety of function, the unity of directive principle, and the cooperation of the parts to a common end, which are found in a society; but it is insufficient to explain the terms in which St. Paul speaks of the union between Christ and His disciples. Each of them is a member of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15); together they form the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:16); as a corporate unity they are simply termed Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12).
The intimacy of union here suggested is, however, justified, if we recall that the gifts and graces bestowed upon each disciple are graces merited by the Passion of Christ, and are destined to produce in him the likeness of Christ. The connection between Christ and himself is thus very different from the purely juridical relation binding the ruler of a natural society to the individuals belonging to it. The Apostle develops the relation between Christ and His members from various points of view. As a human body is organized, each joint and muscle having its own function, yet each contributing to the union of the complex whole, so too the Christian society is a body “compacted and firmly joined together by that which every part supplieth” (Ephesians 4:16), while all the parts depend on Christ their head. It is He Who has organized the body, assigning to each member his place in the Church, endowing each with the special graces necessary, and, above all, conferring on some of the members the graces in virtue of which they rule and guide the Church in His name (4:11). Strengthened by these graces, the mystical body, like a physical body, grows and increases. This growth is twofold. It takes place in the individual, inasmuch as each Christian gradually grows into the “perfect man”, into the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:13, 15; Romans 8:29). But there is also a growth in the whole body. As time goes on, the Church is to increase and multiply till it fills the earth. So intimate is the union between Christ and His members, that the Apostle speaks of the Church as the “fullness” (pleroma) of Christ (Ephesians 1:23; 4:13), as though apart from His members something were lacking to the head. He even speaks of it as Christ: “As all the members of the body whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). And to establish the reality of this union he refers it to the efficacious instrumentality of the Holy Eucharist: “We being many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17 — Greek text).
The description of the Church as God’s temple, in which the disciples are “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5), is scarcely less frequent in the Apostolic writings than is the metaphor of the body. “You are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16), writes St. Paul to the Corinthians, and he reminds the Ephesians that they are “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building being framed together, groweth up into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20 sq.). With a slight change in the metaphor, the same Apostle in another passage (1 Corinthians 3:11) compares Christ to the foundation, and himself and other Apostolic labourers to the builders who raise the temple upon it. It is noticeable that the word translated “temple” is naos, a term which signifies properly the inner sanctuary. The Apostle, when he employs this word, is clearly comparing the Christian Church to that Holy of Holies where God manifested His visible presence in the Shekinah. The metaphor of the temple is well adapted to enforce two lessons. On several occasions the Apostle employs it to impress on his readers the sanctity of the Church in which they have been incorporated. “If any shall violate the temple of God”, he says, speaking of those who corrupt the Church by false doctrine, “him shall God destroy” (1 Corinthians 3:17). And he employs the same motive to dissuade disciples from forming matrimonial alliance with Unbelievers: “What agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16). It further illustrates in the clearest way the truth that to each member of the Church God has assigned his own place, enabling him by his work there to cooperate towards the great common end, the glory of God.
The third parallel represents the Church as the bride of Christ. Here there is much more than a metaphor. The Apostle says that the union between Christ and His Church is the archetype of which human marriage is an earthly representation. Thus he bids wives be subject to their husbands, as the Church is subject to Christ (Ephesians 5:22 sq.). Yet he points out on the other hand that the relation of husband to wife is not that of a master to his servant, but one involving the tenderest and most self-sacrificing love. He bids husbands love their wives, “as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered himself up for it” (Ephesians 5:25). Man and wife are one flesh; and in this the husband has a powerful motive for love towards the wife, since “no man ever hated his own flesh”. This physical union is but the antitype of that mysterious bond in virtue of which the Church is so truly one with Christ, that “we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh'” (Ephesians 5:30 sq.; Genesis 2:24). In these words the Apostle indicates the mysterious parallelism between the union of the first Adam with the spouse formed from his body, and the union of the second Adam with the Church. She is “bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh”, even as Eve was in regard to our first father. And those only belong to the family of the second Adam, who are her children, “born again of water and of the Holy Ghost”. Occasionally the metaphor assumes a slightly different form. In Apocalypse 19:7, the marriage of the Lamb to his spouse the Church does not take place till the last day in the hour of the Church’s final triumph. Thus too St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:2), compares himself to “the friend of the bridegroom”, who played so important a part in the Hebrew marriage ceremony (cf. John 3:29). He has, he says, espoused the Corinthian community to Christ, and he holds himself responsible to present it spotless to the bridegroom.
Through the medium of these metaphors the Apostles set forth the inward nature of the Church. Their expressions leave no doubt that in them they always refer to the actually existing Church founded by Christ on earth — the society of Christ’s disciples. Hence it is instructive to observe that Protestant divines find it necessary to distinguish between an actual and an ideal Church, and to assert that the teaching of the Apostles regarding the Spouse, the Temple, and the Body refers to the ideal Church alone (cf. Gayford in Hastings, “Dict. of the Bible”, s.v. Church).
The necessary means of salvation
In the preceding examination of the Scriptural doctrine regarding the Church, it has been seen how clearly it is laid down that only by entering the Church can we participate in the redemption wrought for us by Christ. Incorporation with the Church can alone unite us to the family of the second Adam, and alone can engraft us into the true Vine. Moreover, it is to the Church that Christ has committed those means of grace through which the gifts He earned for men are communicated to them. The Church alone dispenses the sacraments. It alone makes known the light of revealed truth. Outside the Church these gifts cannot be obtained. From all this there is but one conclusion: Union with the Church is not merely one out of various means by which salvation may be obtained: it is the only means.
This doctrine of the absolute necessity of union with the Church was taught in explicit terms by Christ. Baptism, the act of incorporation among her members, He affirmed to be essential to salvation. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Any disciple who shall throw off obedience to the Church is to be reckoned as one of the heathen: he has no part in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18:17). St. Paul is equally explicit. “A man that is a heretic”, he writes to Titus, “after the first and second admonition avoid, knowing that he that is such a one is . . . condemned by his own judgment” (Titus 3:10 sq.). The doctrine is summed up in the phrase, Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. This saying has been the occasion of so many objections that some consideration of its meaning seems desirable. It certainly does not mean that none can be saved except those who are in visible communion with the Church. The Catholic Church has ever taught that nothing else is needed to obtain justification than an act of perfect charity and of contrition. Whoever, under the impulse of actual grace, elicits these acts receives immediately the gift of sanctifying grace, and is numbered among the children of God. Should he die in these dispositions, he will assuredly attain heaven. It is true such acts could not possibly be elicited by one who was aware that God has commanded all to join the Church, and who nevertheless should willfully remain outside her fold. For love of God carries with it the practical desire to fulfill His commandments. But of those who die without visible communion with the Church, not all are guilty of willful disobedience to God’s commands. Many are kept from the Church by ignorance. Such may be the case of numbers among those who have been brought up in heresy. To others the external means of grace may be unattainable. Thus an excommunicated person may have no opportunity of seeking reconciliation at the last, and yet may repair his faults by inward acts of contrition and charity.
It should be observed that those who are thus saved are not entirely outside the pale of the Church. The will to fulfill all God’s commandments is, and must be, present in all of them. Such a wish implicitly includes the desire for incorporation with the visible Church: for this, though they know it not, has been commanded by God. They thus belong to the Church by desire (voto). Moreover, there is a true sense in which they may be said to be saved through the Church. In the order of Divine Providence, salvation is given to man in the Church: membership in the Church Triumphant is given through membership in the Church Militant. Sanctifying grace, the title to salvation, is peculiarly the grace of those who are united to Christ in the Church: it is the birthright of the children of God. The primary purpose of those actual graces which God bestows upon those outside the Church is to draw them within the fold. Thus, even in the case in which God saves men apart from the Church, He does so through the Church’s graces. They are joined to the Church in spiritual communion, though not in visible and external communion. In the expression of theologians, they belong to the soul of the Church, though not to its body. Yet the possibility of salvation apart from visible communion with the Church must not blind us to the loss suffered by those who are thus situated. They are cut off from the sacraments God has given as the support of the soul. In the ordinary channels of grace, which are ever open to the faithful Catholic, they cannot participate. Countless means of sanctification which the Church offers are denied to them. It is often urged that this is a stern and narrow doctrine. The reply to this objection is that the doctrine is stern, but only in the sense in which sternness is inseparable from love. It is the same sternness which we find in Christ’s words, when he said: “If you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sin” (John 8:24). The Church is animated with the spirit of Christ; she is filled with the same love for souls, the same desire for their salvation. Since, then, she knows that the way of salvation is through union with her, that in her and in her alone are stored the benefits of the Passion, she must needs be uncompromising and even stern in the assertion of her claims. To fail here would be to fail in the duty entrusted to her by her Lord. Even where the message is unwelcome, she must deliver it.
It is instructive to observe that this doctrine has been proclaimed at every period of the Church’s history. It is no accretion of a later age. The earliest successors of the Apostles speak as plainly as the medieval theologians, and the medieval theologians are not more emphatic than those of today. From the first century to the twentieth there is absolute unanimity. St. Ignatius of Antioch writes: “Be not deceived, my brethren. If any man followeth one that maketh schism, he doth not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walketh in strange doctrine, he hath no fellowship with the Passion” (Philadelphians 3). Origen says: “Let no man deceive himself. Outside this house, i.e. outside the Church, none is saved” (Hom. in Jos., iii, n. 5 in P.G., XII, 841). St. Cyprian speaks to the same effect: “He cannot have God for his father, who has not the Church for his mother” (Treatise on Unity 6). The words of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of the Lateran (1215) define the doctrine thus in its decree against the Albigenses: “Una est fidelium universalis Ecclesia, extra quam nullus omnino salvatur” (Denzinger, n. 357); and Pius IX employed almost identical language in his Encyclical to the bishops of Italy (10 August, 1863): “Notissimum est catholicum dogma neminem scilicet extra catholicam ecclesiam posse salvari” (Denzinger, n. 1529).
Visibility of the Church
In asserting that the Church of Christ is visible, we signify, first, that as a society it will at all times be conspicuous and public, and second, that it will ever be recognizable among other bodies as the Church of Christ. These two aspects of visibility are termed respectively “material” and “formal” visibility by Catholic theologians. The material visibility of the Church involves no more than that it must ever be a public, not a private profession; a society manifest to the world, not a body whose members are bound by some secret tie. Formal visibility is more than this. It implies that in all ages the true Church of Christ will be easily recognizable for that which it is, viz. as the Divine society of the Son of God, the means of salvation offered by God to men; that it possesses certain attributes which so evidently postulate a Divine origin that all who see it must know it comes from God. This must, of course, be understood with some necessary qualifications. The power to recognize the Church for what it is presupposes certain moral dispositions. Where there is a rooted unwillingness to follow God’s will, there may be spiritual blindness to the claims of the Church. Invincible prejudice or inherited assumptions may produce the same result. But in such cases the incapacity to see is due, not to the want of visibility in the Church, but to the blindness of the individual. The case bears an almost exact analogy to the evidence possessed by the proofs for the existence of God. The proofs in themselves are evident: but they may fail to penetrate a mind obscured by prejudice or ill will. From the time of the Reformation, Protestant writers either denied the visibility of the Church, or so explained it as to rob it of most of its meaning. After briefly indicating the grounds of the Catholic doctrine, some views prevalent on this subject among Protestant authorities will be noticed.
It is unnecessary to say more in regard to the material visibility of the Church than has been said in sections III and IV of this article. It has been shown there that Christ established His Church as an organized society under accredited leaders, and that He commanded its rulers and those who should succeed them to summon all men to secure their eternal salvation by entry into it. It is manifest that there is no question here of a secret union of believers: the Church is a worldwide corporation, whose existence is to be forced upon the notice of all, willing or unwilling. Formal visibility is secured by those attributes which are usually termed the “notes” of the Church — her Unity, Sanctity, Catholicity, and Apostolicity (see below). The proof may be illustrated in the case of the first of these. The unity of the Church stands out as a fact altogether unparalleled in human history. Her members all over the world are united by the profession of a common faith, by participation in a common worship, and by obedience to a common authority. Differences of class, of nationality, and of race, which seem as though they must be fatal to any form of union, cannot sever this bond. It links in one the civilized and the uncivilized, the philosopher and the peasant, the rich and the poor. One and all hold the same belief, join in the same religious ceremonies, and acknowledge in the successor of Peter the same supreme ruler. Nothing but a supernatural power can explain this. It is a proof manifest to all minds, even to the simple and the unlettered, that the Church is a Divine society. Without this formal visibility, the purpose for which the Church was founded would be frustrated. Christ established it to be the means of salvation for all mankind. For this end it is essential that its claims should be authenticated in a manner evident to all; in other words, it must be visible, not merely as other public societies are visible, but as being the society of the Son of God.
The views taken by Protestants as to the visibility of the Church are various. The rationalist critics naturally reject the whole conception. To them the religion preached by Jesus Christ was something purely internal. When the Church as an institution came to be regarded as an indispensable factor in religion, it was a corruption of the primitive message. (See Harnack, What is Christianity, p. 213.) Passages which deal with the Church in her corporate unity are referred by writers of this school to an ideal invisible Church, a mystical communion of souls. Such an interpretation does violence to the sense of the passages. Moreover, no explanation possessing any semblance of probability has yet been given to account for the genesis among the disciples of this remarkable and altogether novel conception of an invisible Church. It may reasonably be demanded of a professedly critical school that this phenomenon should be explained. Harnack holds that it took the place of Jewish racial unity. But it does not appear why Gentile converts should have felt the need of replacing a feature so entirely proper to the Hebrew religion.
The doctrine of the older Protestant writers is that there are two Churches, a visible and an invisible. This is the view of such standard Anglican divines as Barrow, Field, and Jeremy Taylor (see e.g. Barrow, Unity of Church, Works, 1830, VII, 628). Those who thus explain visibility urge that the essential and vital element of membership in Christ lies in an inner union with Him; that this is necessarily invisible, and those who possess it constitute an invisible Church. Those who are united to Him externally alone have, they maintain, no part in His grace. Thus, when He promised to His Church the gift of indefectibility, declaring that the gates of hell should never prevail against it, the promise must be understood of the invisible, not of the visible Church. In regard to this theory, which is still tolerably prevalent, it is to be said that Christ’s promises were made to the Church as a corporate body, as constituting a society. As thus understood, they were made to the visible Church, not to an invisible and unknown body. Indeed for this distinction between a visible and an invisible Church there is no Scriptural warrant. Even though many of her children prove unfaithful, yet all that Christ said in regard to the Church is realized in her as a corporate body. Nor does the unfaithfulness of these professing Catholics cut them off altogether from membership in Christ. They are His in virtue of their baptism. The character then received still stamps them as His. Though dry and withered branches they are not altogether broken off from the true Vine (Bellarmine, De Ecciesiâ, III, ix, 13). The Anglican High Church writers explicitly teach the visibility of the Church. They restrict themselves, however, to the consideration of material visibility (cf. Palmer, Treatise on the Church, Part I, C. iii).
The doctrine of the visibility in no way excludes from the Church those who have already attained to bliss. These are united with the members of the Church Militant in one communion of saints. They watch her struggles; their prayers are offered on her behalf. Similarly, those who are still in the cleansing fires of purgatory belong to the Church. There are not, as has been said, two Churches; there is but one Church, and of it all the souls of the just, whether in heaven, on earth, or in purgatory, are members (Catech. Rom., I, x, 6). But it is to the Church only in so far as militant here below — to the Church among men — that the property of visibility belongs.
The principle of authority
Whatever authority is exercised in the Church, is exercised in virtue of the commission of Christ. He is the one Prophet, Who has given to the world the revelation of truth, and by His spirit preserves in the Church the faith once delivered to the saints. He is the one Priest, ever pleading on behalf of the Church the sacrifice of Calvary. And He is the one King — the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) — Who rules and guides, through His Providence, His Church’s course. Yet He wills to exercise His power through earthly representatives. He chose the Twelve, and charged them in His name to teach the nations (Matthew 28:19), to offer sacrifice (Luke 22:19), to govern His flock (Matthew 18:18; John 21:17). They, as seen above, used the authority committed to them while they lived; and before their death, they took measures for the perpetuation of this principle of government in the Church. From that day to this, the hierarchy thus established has claimed and has exercised this threefold office. Thus the prophecies of the Old Testament have been fulfilled which foretold that to those who should be appointed to rule the Messianic kingdom it should be granted to participate in the Messias’ office of prophet, priest, and king. (See II above.)
The authority established in the Church holds its commission from above, not from below. The pope and the bishops exercise their power as the successors of the men who were chosen by Christ in person. They are not, as the Presbyterian theory of Church government teaches, the delegates of the flock; their warrant is received from the Shepherd, not from the sheep. The view that ecclesiastical authority is ministerial only, and derived by delegation from the faithful, was expressly condemned by Pius VI (1794) in his Constitution “Auctorem Fidei”; and on the renovation of the error by certain recent Modernist writers, Pius X reiterated the condemnation in the Encyclical on the errors of the Modernists. In this sense the government of the Church is not democratic. This indeed is involved in the very nature of the Church as a supernatural society, leading men to a supernatural end. No man is capable of wielding authority for such a purpose, unless power is communicated to him from a Divine source. The case is altogether different where civil society is concerned. There the end is not supernatural: it is the temporal well-being of the citizens. It cannot then be said that a special endowment is required to render any class of men capable of filling the place of rulers and of guides. Hence the Church approves equally all forms of civil government which are consonant with the principle of justice. The power exercised by the Church through sacrifice and sacrament (potestas ordinis) lies outside the present subject. It is proposed briefly to consider here the nature of the Church’s authority in her office (1) of teaching (potestas magisterii) and (2) of government (potestas jurisdictionis).
As the Divinely appointed teacher of revealed truth, the Church is infallible. This gift of inerrancy is guaranteed to it by the words of Christ, in which He promised that His Spirit would abide with it forever to guide it unto all truth (John 14:16; 16:13). It is implied also in other passages of Scripture, and asserted by the unanimous testimony of the Fathers. The scope of this infallibility is to preserve the deposit of faith revealed to man by Christ and His Apostles (see INFALLIBILITY.) The Church teaches expressly that it is the guardian only of the revelation, that it can teach nothing which it has not received. The Vatican Council declares: “The Holy Ghost was not promised to the successors of Peter, in order that through His revelation they might manifest new doctrine: but that through His assistance they might religiously guard, and faithfully expound the revelation handed down by the Apostles, or the deposit of the faith” (Conc. Vat., Sess. IV, cap. liv). The obligation of the natural moral law constitutes part of this revelation. The authority of that law is again and again insisted on by Christ and His Apostles. The Church therefore is infallible in matters both of faith and morals. Moreover, theologians are agreed that the gift of infallibility in regard to the deposit must, by necessary consequence, carry with it infallibility as to certain matters intimately related to the Faith. There are questions bearing so nearly on the preservation of the Faith that, could the Church err in these, her infallibility would not suffice to guard the flock from false doctrine. Such, for instance, is the decision whether a given book does or does not contain teaching condemned as heretical.
It is needless to point out that if the Christian Faith is indeed a revealed doctrine, which men must believe under pain of eternal loss, the gift of infallibility was necessary to the Church. Could she err at all, she might err in any point. The flock would have no guarantee of the truth of any doctrine. The condition of those bodies which at the time of the Reformation forsook the Church affords us an object-lesson in point. Divided into various sections and parties, they are the scene of never-ending disputes; and by the nature of the case they are cut off from all hope of attaining to certainty. In regard also to the moral law, the need of an infallible guide is hardly less imperative. Though on a few broad principles there may be some consensus of opinion as to what is right and what is wrong, yet, in the application of these principles to concrete facts, it is impossible to obtain agreement. On matters of such practical moment as are, for instance, the questions of private property, marriage, and liberty, the most divergent views are defended by thinkers of great ability. Amid all this questioning the unerring voice of the Church gives confidence to her children that they are following the right course, and have not been led astray by some specious fallacy. The various modes in which the Church exercises this gift, and the prerogatives of the Holy See in regard to infallibility, will be found discussed in the article dealing with that subject.
The Church’s pastors govern and direct the flock committed to them in virtue of jurisdiction conferred upon them by Christ. The authority of jurisdiction differs essentially from the authority to teach. The two powers are concerned with different objects. The right to teach is concerned solely with the manifestation of the revealed doctrine; the object of the power of jurisdiction is to establish and enforce such laws and regulations as are necessary to the well-being of the Church. Further, the right of the Church to teach extends to the whole world: The jurisdiction of her rulers extends to her members alone (1 Corinthians 5:12). Christ’s words to St. Peter, “I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven”, distinctly express the gift of jurisdiction. Supreme authority over a body carries with it the right to govern and direct. The three elements which go to constitute jurisdiction — legislative power, judicial power, and coercive power — are, moreover, all implied in Christ’s directions to the Apostles (Matthew 18). Not merely are they instructed to impose obligations and to settle disputes; but they may even inflict the extremest ecclesiastical penalty — that of exclusion from membership in Christ.
The jurisdiction exercised within the Church is partly of Divine right, and partly determined by ecclesiastical law. A supreme jurisdiction over the whole Church — clergy and laity alike — belongs by Divine appointment to the pope (Conc. Vat, Sess. IV, cap. iii). The government of the faithful by bishops possessed of ordinary jurisdiction (i.e. a jurisdiction that is not held by mere delegation, but is exercised in their own name) is likewise of Divine ordinance. But the system by which the Church is territorially divided into dioceses, within each of which a single bishop rules the faithful within that district, is an ecclesiastical arrangement capable of modification. The limits of dioceses may be changed by the Holy See. In England the old pre-Reformation diocesan divisions held good until 1850, though the Catholic hierarchy had become extinct in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In that year the old divisions were annulled and a new diocesan system established. Similarly in France, a complete change was introduced after the Revolution. A bishop may exercise his power on other than a territorial basis. Thus in the East there are different bishops for the faithful belonging to the different rites in communion with the Holy See. Besides bishops, in countries where the ecclesiastical system is fully developed, those of the lower clergy who are parish priests, in the proper sense of the term, have ordinary jurisdiction within their own parishes.
Internal jurisdiction is that which is exercised in the tribunal of penance. It differs from the external jurisdiction of which we have been speaking in that its object is the welfare of the individual penitent, while the object of external jurisdiction is the welfare of the Church as a corporate body. To exercise this internal jurisdiction, the power of orders is an essential condition: none but a priest can absolve. But the power of orders itself is insufficient. The minister of the sacrament must receive jurisdiction from one competent to bestow it. Hence a priest cannot hear confessions in any locality unless he has received faculties from the ordinary of the place. On the other hand, for the exercise of external jurisdiction the power of orders is not necessary. A bishop, duly appointed to a see, but not yet consecrated, is invested with external jurisdiction over his diocese as soon as he has exhibited his letters of appointment to the chapter.
Members of the Church
The foregoing account of the Church and of the principle of authority by which it is governed enables us to determine who are members of the Church and who are not. The membership of which we speak, is incorporation in the visible body of Christ. It has already been noted (VI) that a member of the Church may have forfeited the grace of God. In this case he is a withered branch of the true Vine; but he has not been finally broken off from it. He still belongs to Christ. Three conditions are requisite for a man to be a member of the Church.
- In the first place, he must profess the true Faith, and have received the Sacrament of Baptism. The essential necessity of this condition is apparent from the fact that the Church is the kingdom of truth, the society of those who accept the revelation of the Son of God. Every member of the Church must accept the whole revelation, either explicitly or implicitly, by profession of all that the Church teaches. He who refuses to receive it, or who, having received it, falls away, thereby excludes himself from the kingdom (Titus 3:10 sq.). The Sacrament of Baptism is rightly regarded as part of this condition. By it those who profess the Faith are formally adopted as children of God (Ephesians 1:13), and an habitual faith is among the gifts bestowed in it. Christ expressly connects the two, declaring that “he who believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16; cf. Matthew 28:19).
- It is further necessary to acknowledge the authority of the Church and of her appointed rulers. Those who reject the jurisdiction established by Christ are no longer members of His kingdom. Thus St. Ignatius lays it down in his Letter to the Church of Smyrna (no. 8): Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be; even as where Jesus may be there is the universal Church”. In regard to this condition, the ultimate touchstone is to be found in communion with the Holy See. On Peter Christ founded his Church. Those who are not joined to that foundation cannot form part of the house of God.
- The third condition lies in the canonical right to communion with the Church. In virtue of its coercive power the Church has authority to excommunicate notorious sinners. It may inflict this punishment not merely on the ground of heresy or schism, but for other grave offences. Thus St. Paul pronounces sentence of excommunication on the incestuous Corinthian (1 Corinthians 5:3). This penalty is no mere external severance from the rights of common worship. It is a severance from the body of Christ, undoing to this extent the work of baptism, and placing the excommunicated man in the condition of the heathen and the publican”. It casts him out of God’s kingdom; and the Apostle speaks of it as “delivering him over to Satan” (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20).
Regarding each of these conditions, however, certain distinctions must be drawn.
- Many baptized heretics have been educated in their erroneous beliefs. Their case is altogether different from that of those who have voluntarily renounced the Faith. They accept what they believe to be the Divine revelation. Such as these belong to the Church in desire, for they are at heart anxious to fulfill God’s will in their regard. In virtue of their baptism and good will, they may be in a state of grace. They belong to the soul of the Church, though they are not united to the visible body. As such they are members of the Church internally, though not externally. Even in regard to those who have themselves fallen away from the Faith, a difference must be made between open and notorious heretics on the one hand, and secret heretics on the other. Open and notorious heresy severs from the visible Church. The majority of theologians agree with Bellarmine (de Ecclesiâ, III, c. x), as against Francisco Suárez, that secret heresy has not this effect.
- In regard to schism the same distinction must be drawn. A secret repudiation of the Church’s authority does not sever the sinner from the Church. The Church recognizes the schismatic as a member, entitled to her communion, until by open and notorious rebellion he rejects her authority.
- Excommunicated persons are either excommunicati tolerati (i.e. those who are still tolerated) or excommunicati vitandi (i.e. those to be shunned). Many theologians hold that those whom the Church still tolerates are not wholly cut off from her membership, and that it is only those whom she has branded as “to be shunned” who are cut off from God’s kingdom (see Murray, De Eccles., Disp. i, sect. viii, n. 118).
Indefectibility of the Church
Among the prerogatives conferred on His Church by Christ is the gift of indefectibility. By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will preserve unimpaired its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men. The gift of indefectibility is expressly promised to the Church by Christ, in the words in which He declares that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. It is manifest that, could the storms which the Church encounters so shake it as to alter its essential characteristics and make it other than Christ intended it to be, the gates of hell, i.e. the powers of evil, would have prevailed. It is clear, too, that could the Church suffer substantial change, it would no longer be an instrument capable of accomplishing the work for which God called it in to being. He established it that it might be to all men the school of holiness. This it would cease to be if ever it could set up a false and corrupt moral standard. He established it to proclaim His revelation to the world, and charged it to warn all men that unless they accepted that message they must perish everlastingly. Could the Church, in defining the truths of revelation err in the smallest point, such a charge would be impossible. No body could enforce under such a penalty the acceptance of what might be erroneous. By the hierarchy and the sacraments, Christ, further, made the Church the depositary of the graces of the Passion. Were it to lose either of these, it could no longer dispense to men the treasures of grace.
The gift of indefectibility plainly does not guarantee each several part of the Church against heresy or apostasy. The promise is made to the corporate body. Individual Churches may become corrupt in morals, may fall into heresy, may even apostatize. Thus at the time of the Mohammedan conquests, whole populations renounced their faith; and the Church suffered similar losses in the sixteenth century. But the defection of isolated branches does not alter the character of the main stem. The society of Jesus Christ remains endowed with all the prerogatives bestowed on it by its Founder. Only to One particular Church is indefectibility assured, viz. to the See of Rome. To Peter, and in him to all his successors in the chief pastorate, Christ committed the task of confirming his brethren in the Faith (Luke 22:32); and thus, to the Roman Church, as Cyprian says, “faithlessness cannot gain access” (Epistle 54). The various bodies that have left the Church naturally deny its indefectibility. Their plea for separation rests in each case on the supposed fact that the main body of Christians has fallen so far from primitive truth, or from the purity of Christian morals, that the formation of a separate organization is not only desirable but necessary. Those who are called on to defend this plea endeavour in various ways to reconcile it with Christ’s promise. Some, as seen above (VII), have recourse to the hypothesis of an indefectible invisible Church. The Right Rev. Charles Gore of Worcester, who may be regarded as the representative of high-class Anglicanism, prefers a different solution. In his controversy with Canon Richardson, he adopted the position that while the Church will never fail to teach the whole truth as revealed, yet “errors of addition” may exist universally in its current teaching (see Richardson, Catholic Claims, Appendix). Such an explanation deprives Christ’s words of all their meaning. A Church which at any period might conceivably teach, as of faith, doctrines which form no part of the deposit could never deliver her message to the world as the message of God. Men could reasonably urge in regard to any doctrine that it might be an “error of addition”.
It was said above that one part of the Church’s gift of indefectibility lies in her preservation from any substantial corruption in the sphere of morals. This supposes, not merely that she will always proclaim the perfect standard of morality bequeathed to her by her Founder, but also that in every age the lives of many of her children will be based on that sublime model. Only a supernatural principle of spiritual life could bring this about. Man’s natural tendency is downwards. The force of every religious movement gradually spends itself; and the followers of great religious reformers tend in time to the level of their environment. According to the laws of unassisted human nature, it should have been thus with the society established by Christ. Yet history shows us that the Catholic Church possesses a power of reform from within, which has no parallel in any other religious organization. Again and again she produces saints, men imitating the virtues of Christ in an extraordinary degree, whose influence, spreading far and wide, gives fresh ardour even to those who reach a less heroic standard. Thus, to cite one or two well-known instances out of many that might be given: St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi rekindled the love of virtue in the men of the thirteenth century; St. Philip Neri and St. Ignatius Loyola accomplished a like work in the sixteenth century; St. Paul of the Cross and St. Alphonsus Liguori, in the eighteenth. No explanation suffices to account for this phenomenon save the Catholic doctrine that the Church is not a natural but a supernatural society, that the preservation of her moral life depends, not on any laws of human nature, but on the life-giving presence of the Holy Ghost. The Catholic and the Protestant principles of reform stand in sharp contrast the one to the other. Catholic reformers have one and all fallen back on the model set before them in the person of Christ and on the power of the Holy Ghost to breathe fresh life into the souls which He has regenerated. Protestant reformers have commenced their work by separation, and by this act have severed themselves from the very principle of life. No one of course would wish to deny that within the Protestant bodies there have been many men of great virtues. Yet it is not too much to assert that in every case their virtue has been nourished on what yet remained to them of Catholic belief and practice, and not on anything which they have received from Protestantism as such.
The Continuity Theory
The doctrine of the Church’s indefectibility just considered will place us in a position to estimate, at its true value, the claim of the Anglican Church and of the Episcopalian bodies in other English-speaking countries to be continuous with the ancient pre-Reformation Church of England, in the sense of being part of one and the same society. The point to be determined here is what constitutes a breach of continuity as regards a society. It may safely be said that the continuity of a society is broken when a radical change in the principles it embodies is introduced. In the case of a Church, such a change in its hierarchical constitution and in its professed faith suffices to make it a different Church from what it was before. For the societies we term Churches exist as the embodiment of certain supernatural dogmas and of a Divinely-authorized principle of government. when, therefore, the truths previously field to be of faith are rejected, and the principle of government regarded as sacred is repudiated, there is a breach of continuity, and a new Church is formed. In this the continuity of a Church differs from the continuity of a nation. National continuity is independent of forms of government and of beliefs. A nation is an aggregate of families, and so long as these families constitute a self-sufficing social organism, it remains the same nation, whatever the form of government may be. The continuity of a Church depends essentially on its government and its beliefs.
The changes introduced into the English Church at the time of the Reformation were precisely of the character just described. At that period fundamental alterations were made in its hierarchical constitution and in its dogmatic standards. It is not to be determined here which was in the right, the Church of Catholic days or the Reformed Church. It is sufficient if we show that changes were made vitally affecting the nature of the society. It is notorious that from the days of Augustine to those of Warham, every archbishop of Canterbury recognized the pope as the supreme source of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The archbishops themselves could not exercise jurisdiction within their province until they had received papal confirmation. Further, the popes were accustomed to send to England legates a latere, who, in virtue of their legatine authority, whatever their personal status in the hierarchy, possessed a jurisdiction superior to that of the local bishops. Appeals ran from every ecclesiastical court in England to the pope, and his decision was recognized by all as final. The pope, too, exercised the right of excommunication in regard to the members of the English Church. This supreme authority was, moreover, regarded by all as belonging to the pope by Divine right, and not in virtue of merely human institution. When, therefore, this power of jurisdiction was transferred to the king, the alteration touched the constitutive principles of the body and was fundamental in its character. Similarly, in regard to matters of faith, the changes were revolutionary. It will be sufficient to note that a new rule of faith was introduced, Scripture alone being substituted for Scripture and Tradition; that several books were expunged from the Canon of Scripture; that five out of the seven sacraments were repudiated; and that the sacrifices of Masses were declared to be “blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits”. It is indeed sometimes said that the official formularies of Anglicanism are capable of a Catholic sense, if given a “non-natural” interpretation. This argument can, however, carry no weight. In estimating the character of a society, we must judge, not by the strained sense which some individuals may attach to its formularies, but by the sense they were intended to bear. Judged by this criterion, none can dispute that these innovations were such as to constitute a fundamental change in the dogmatic standpoint of the Church of England.
Universality of the Church
The Church of Christ has from the first claimed to transcend all those national differences which divide men. In it, the Apostle asserts, “there is neither Gentile nor Jew . . . Barbarian nor Scythian” (Colossians 3:11). Men of every race are one in it; they form a single brotherhood in the Kingdom of God. In the pagan world, religion and nationality had been coterminous. The boundaries of the State were the boundaries of the faith which the State professed. Even the Jewish Dispensation was limited to a special race. Previous to the Christian revelation the idea of a religion adapted to all peoples was foreign to the conceptions of men. It is one of the essential features of the Church that she should be a single, worldwide society embracing all races. In it, and in it alone, is the brotherhood of man realized. All national barriers, no less than all differences of class, disappear in the City of God. It is not to be understood that the Church disregards the ties which bind men to their country, or undervalues the virtue of patriotism. The division of men into different nations enters into the scheme of Providence. To each nation has been assigned a special task to accomplish in the working out of God’s purposes. A man owes a duty to his nation no less than to his family. One who omits this duty has failed in a primary moral obligation. Moreover, each nation has its own character, and its own special gifts. It will usually be found that a man attains to high virtue, not by neglecting these gifts, but by embodying the best and noblest ideals of his own people.
For these reasons the Church consecrates the spirit of nationality. Yet it transcends it, for it binds together the various nationalities in a single brotherhood. More than this, it purifies, develops, and perfects national character, just as it purifies and perfects the character of each individual. Often indeed it has been accused of exercising an anti-patriotic influence. But it will invariably be found that it has incurred this reproach by opposing and rebuking what was base in the national aspirations, not by thwarting what was heroic or just. As the Church perfects the nation, so reciprocally does each nation add something of its own to the glory of the Church. It brings its own type of sanctity, its national virtues, and thus contributes to “the fullness of Christ” something which no other race could give. Such are the relations of the Church to what is termed nationality. The external unity of the one society is the visible embodiment of the doctrine of the brotherhood of man. The sin of schism, the Fathers tell us, lies in this, that by it the law of love to our neighbour is implicitly rejected. “Nec hæretici pertinent ad Ecclesiam Catholicam, qæ diligit Deum; nec schismatici quoniam diligit proximum” (Neither do heretics belong to the Catholic church, for she loves God; nor do schismatics, for she loves her neighbour — Augustine, On Faith and the Creed 10). It is of importance to insist on this point. For it is sometimes urged that the organized unity of Catholicism may be adapted to the Latin races but is ill-suited to the Teutonic spirit. To say this is to say that an essential characteristic of this Christian revelation is ill-suited to one of the great races of the world.
The union of different nations in one society is contrary to the natural inclinations of fallen humanity. It must ever struggle against the impulses of national pride, the desire for complete independence, the dislike of external control. Hence history provides various cases in which these passions have obtained the upper hand, the bond of unity has been broken, and “National Churches” have been formed. In every such case the so-called National Church has found to its cost that, in severing its connection with the Holy See, it has lost its one protector against the encroachments of the secular Government. The Greek Church under the Byzantine Empire, the autocephalous Russian Church today, have been mere pawns in the hands of the civil authority. The history of the Anglican Church presents the same features. There is but one institution which is able to resist the pressure of secular powers — the See of Peter, which was set in the Church for this purpose by Christ, that it might afford a principle of stability and security to every part. The papacy is above all nationalities. It is the servant of no particular State; and hence it has strength to resist the forces that would make the religion of Christ subservient to secular ends. Those Churches alone have retained their vitality which have kept their union with the See of Peter. The branches which have been broken from that stem have withered.
The Branch Theory
In the course of the nineteenth century, the principle of National Churches was strenuously defended by the High Church Anglican divines under the name of the “Branch theory”. According to this view, each National Church when fully constituted under its own episcopate is independent of external control. It possesses plenary authority as to its internal discipline, and may not merely reform itself as regards ritual and ceremonial usages, but may correct obvious abuses in matters of doctrine. It is justified in doing this even if the step involve a breach of communion with the rest of Christendom; for, in this case, the blame attaches not to the Church which undertakes the work of reformation, but to those which, on this score, reject it from communion. It still remains a “branch” of the Catholic Church as it was before. At the present day the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Greek Churches are each of them a branch of the Universal Church. None of them has an exclusive right to term itself the Catholic Church. The defenders of the theory recognize, indeed, that this divided state of the church is abnormal. They admit that the Fathers never contemplated the possibility of a church thus severed into parts. But they assert that circumstances such as those which led to this abnormal state of things never presented themselves during the early centuries of ecclesiastical history.
The position is open to fatal objections.
- It is an entirely novel theory as to the constitution of the Church, which is rejected alike by the Catholic and the Greek Churches. Neither of these admit the existence of the so-called branches of the Church. The Greek schismatics, no less than the Catholics, affirm that they, and they only, constitute the Church. Further, the theory is rejected by the majority of the Anglican body. It is the tenet of but one school, though that a distinguished one. It Is almost a reductio ad absurdum when we are asked to believe that a single school in a particular sect is the sole depositary of the true theory of the Church.
- The claim made by many Anglicans that there is nothing in their position contrary to ecclesiastical and patristic tradition in quite indefensible. Arguments precisely applicable to their case were used by the Fathers against the Donatists. It is known from the “Apologia” that Cardinal Wiseman’s masterly demonstration of this point was one of the chief factors in bringing about the conversion of Newman. In the controversy with the Donatists, St. Augustine holds it sufficient for his purpose to argue that those who are separated from the Universal Church cannot be in the right. He makes the question one of simple fact. Are the Donatists separated from the main body of Christians, or are they not? If they are, no vindication of their cause can absolve them from the charge of schism. “Securus judicat orbis terrarum bonos non esse qui se dividunt ab orbe terrarum in quâcunque parte orbis terrarum” (The entire world judges with security that they are not good, who separate themselves from the entire world in whatever part of the entire world — Augustine, contra epist. Parm., III, c. iv in P.L., XLIII, 101). St. Augustine’s position rests through out on the doctrine he assumes as absolutely indubitable, that Christ’s Church must be one, must be visibly one; and that any body that is separated from it is ipso facto shown to be in schism.
The contention of the Anglican controversialists that the English Church is not separatist since it did not reject the communion of Rome, but Rome rejected it, has of course only the value of a piece of special pleading, and need not be taken as a serious argument. Yet it is interesting to observe that in this too they were anticipated by the Donatists (Against Petilian 2.38).
- The consequences of the doctrine constitute a manifest proof of its falsity. The unity of the Catholic Church in every part of the world is, as already seen, the sign of the brotherhood which binds together the children of God. More than this, Christ Himself declared that it would be a proof to all men of His Divine mission. The unity of His flock, an earthly representation of the unity of the Father and the Son, would be sufficient to show that He had come from God (John 17:21). Contrariwise, this theory, first advanced to justify a state of things having Henry VIII as its author, would make the Christian Church, not a witness to the brotherhood of God’s children, but a standing proof that even the Son of God had failed to withstand the spirit of discord amongst men. Were the theory true, so far from the unity of the Church testifying to the Divine mission of Jesus Christ, its severed and broken condition would be a potent argument in the hands of unbelief.
Notes of the Church
By the notes of the Church are meant certain conspicuous characteristics which distinguish it from all other bodies and prove it to be the one society of Jesus Christ. Some such distinguishing marks it needs must have, if it is, indeed, the sole depositary of the blessings of redemption, the way of salvation offered by God to man. A Babel of religious organizations all proclaim themselves to be the Church of Christ. Their doctrines are contradictory; and precisely in so far as any one of them regards the doctrines which it teaches as of vital moment, it declares those of the rival bodies to be misleading and pernicious. Unless the true Church were endowed with such characteristics as would prove to all men that it, and it alone, had a right to the name, how could the vast majority of mankind distinguish the revelation of God from the inventions of man? If it could not authenticate its claim, it would be impossible for it to warn all men that to reject it was to reject Christ. In discussing the visibility of the Church (VII) it was seen that the Catholic Church points to four such notes — those namely which were inserted in the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381): Unity, Sanctity, Catholicity, and Apostolicity. These, it declares, distinguish it from every other body, and prove that in it alone is to be found the true religion. Each of these characteristics forms the subject of a special article in this work. Here, however, will be indicated the sense in which the terms are to be understood. A brief explanation of their meaning will show how decisive a proof they furnish that the society of Jesus Christ is none other than the Church in communion with the Holy See.
The Protestant reformers endeavoured to assign notes of the Church, such as might lend support to their newly-founded sects. Calvin declares that the Church is to be found “where the word of God is preached in its purity, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s ordinance” (Instit., Bk. IV, c. i; cf. Confessio August., art. 4). It is manifest that such notes are altogether nugatory. The very reason why notes are required at all is that men may be able to discern the word of God from the words of false prophets, and may know which religious body has a right to term its ceremonies the sacraments of Christ. To say that the Church is to be sought where these two qualities are found cannot help us. The Anglican Church adopted Calvin’s account in its official formulary (Thirty-Nine Articles, art. 17); on the other hand, it retains the use of the Nicene Creed; though a profession of faith in a Church which is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, can have little meaning to those who are not in communion with the successor of Peter.
The Church is One because its members;
- Are all united under one government
- All profess the same faith
- All join in a common worship
As already noted (XI) Christ Himself declared that the unity of his followers should bear witness to Him. Discord and separation are the Devil’s work on the earth. The unity and brotherhood promised by Christ are to be the visible manifestation on the earth of the Divine union (John 17:21). St. Paul’s teaching on this point is to the same effect. He sees in the visible unity of the body of Christ an external sign of the oneness of the Spirit who dwells within it. There is, he says, “one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:4). As in any living organism the union of the members in one body is the sign of the one animating principle within, so it is with the Church. If the Church were divided into two or more mutually exclusive bodies, how could she witness to the presence of that Spirit Whose name is Love. Further, when it is said that the members of the Church are united by the profession of the same faith, we speak of external profession as well as inward acceptance. In recent years, much has been said by those outside the Church, about unity of spirit being compatible with differences of creed. Such words are meaningless in reference to a Divine revelation. Christ came from heaven to reveal the truth to man. If a diversity of creeds could be found in His Church, this could only be because the truth He revealed had been lost in the quagmire of human error. It would signify that His work was frustrated, that His Church was no longer the pillar and ground of the truth. There is, it is plain, but one Church, in which is found the unity we have described — in the Catholic Church, united under the government of the supreme pontiff, and acknowledging all that he teaches in his capacity as the infallible guide of the Church.
When the Church points to sanctity as one of her notes, it is manifest that what is meant is a sanctity of such a kind as excludes the supposition of any natural origin. The holiness which marks the Church should correspond to the holiness of its Founder, of the Spirit Who dwells within it, of the graces bestowed upon it. A quality such as this may well serve to distinguish the true Church from counterfeits. It is not without reason that the Church of Rome claims to be holy in this sense. Her holiness appears in the doctrine which she teaches, in the worship she offers to God, in the fruits which she brings forth.
- The doctrine of the Church is summed up in the imitation of Jesus Christ. This imitation expresses itself in good works, in self-sacrifice, in love of suffering, and especially in the practice of the three evangelical counsels of perfection — voluntary poverty, chastity, and obedience. The ideal which the Church proposes to us is a Divine ideal. The sects which have severed themselves from the Church have either neglected or repudiated some part of the Church’s teaching in this regard. The Reformers of the sixteenth century went so far as to deny the value of good works altogether. Though their followers have for the most part let fall this anti-Christian doctrine, yet to this day the self-surrender of the religious state is regarded by Protestants as folly.
- The holiness of the Church’s worship is recognized even by the world outside the Church. In the solemn renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary there lies a mysterious power, which all are forced to own. Even enemies of the Church realize the sanctity of the Mass.
- Fruits of holiness are not, indeed, found in the lives of all the Church’s children. Man’s will is free, and though God gives grace, many who have been united to the Church by baptism make little use of the gift. But at all times of the Church’s history there have been many who have risen to sublime heights of self-sacrifice, of love to man, and of love to God. It is only in the Catholic Church that is found that type of character which we recognize in the saints — in men such as St. Francis Xavier, St. Vincent de Paul, and many others. Outside the Church men do not look for such holiness. Moreover, the saints, and indeed every other member of the Church who has attained to any degree of piety, have been ever ready to acknowledge that they owe whatever is good in them to the grace the Church bestows.
Christ founded the Church for the salvation of the human race. He established it that it might preserve His revelation, and dispense His grace to all nations. Hence it was necessary that it should be found in every land, proclaiming His message to all men, and communicating to them the means of grace. To this end He laid on the Apostles the Injunction to “go, and teach all nations”. There is, notoriously, but one religious body which fulfills this command, and which can therefore lay any claim to the note of Catholicity. The Church which owns the Roman pontiff as its supreme head extends its ministrations over the whole world. It owns its obligation to preach the Gospel to all peoples. No other Church attempts this task, or can use the title of Catholic with any appearance of justification. The Greek Church is at the present day a mere local schism. None of the Protestant bodies has ever pretended to a universal mission. They claim no right to convert to their beliefs the Christianized nations of Europe. Even in regard to the heathen, for nearly two hundred years missionary enterprise was unknown among Protestant bodies. In the nineteenth century, it is true, many of them displayed no little zeal for the conversion of the heathen, and contributed large sums of money for this purpose. But the results achieved were so inadequate as to justify the conclusion that the blessing of God did not rest upon the enterprise.
The Apostolicity of the Church consists in its identity with the body which Christ established on the foundation of the Apostles, and which He commissioned to carry on His work. No other body save this is the Church of Christ. The true Church must be Apostolic in doctrine and Apostolic in mission. Since, however, it has already been shown that the gift of infallibility was promised to the Church, it follows that where there is Apostolicity of mission, there will also be Apostolicity of doctrine. Apostolicity of mission consists in the power of Holy orders and the power of jurisdiction derived by legitimate transmission from the Apostles. Any religious organization whose ministers do not possess these two powers is not accredited to preach the Gospel of Christ. For “how shall they preach”, asks the Apostle, “unless they be sent?” (Romans 10:15). It is Apostolicity of mission which is reckoned as a note of the Church. No historical fact can be more clear than that Apostolicity, if it is found anywhere, is found in the Catholic Church. In it there is the power of Holy orders received by Apostolic succession. In it, too, there is Apostolicity of jurisdiction; for history shows us that the Roman bishop is the successor of Peter, and as such the centre of jurisdiction. Those prelates who are united to the Roman See receive their jurisdiction from the pope, who alone can bestow it. No other Church is Apostolic. The Greek church, it is true, claims to possess this property on the strength of its valid succession of bishops. But, by rejecting the authority of the Holy See, it severed itself from the Apostolic College, and thereby forfeited all jurisdiction. Anglicans make a similar claim. But even if they possessed valid orders, jurisdiction would be wanting to them no less than to the Greeks.
The Church, a perfect society
The Church has been considered as a society which aims at a spiritual end, but which yet is a visible polity, like the secular polities among which it exists. It is, further, a “perfect society”. The meaning of this expression, “a perfect society”, should be clearly understood, for this characteristic justifies, even on grounds of pure reason, that independence of secular control which the Church has always claimed. A society may be defined as a number of men who unite in a manner more or less permanent in order, by their combined efforts, to attain a common good. Association of this kind is a necessary condition of civilization. An isolated individual can achieve but little. He can scarcely provide himself with necessary sustenance; much less can he find the means of developing his higher mental and moral gifts. As civilization progresses, men enter into various societies for the attainment of various ends. These organizations are perfect or imperfect societies. For a society to be perfect, two conditions are necessary:
- The end which it proposes to itself must not be purely subordinate to the end of some other society. For example, the cavalry of an army is an organized association of men; but the end for which this association exists is entirely subordinate to the good of the whole army. Apart from the success of the whole army, there can properly speaking be no such thing as the success of the lesser association. Similarly, the good of the whole army is subordinate to the welfare of the State.
- The society in question must be independent of other societies in regard to the attainment of its end. Mercantile societies, no matter how great their wealth and power, are imperfect; for they depend on the authority of the State for permission to exist. So, too, a single family is an imperfect society. It cannot attain its end — the well-being of its members — in isolation from other families. Civilized life requires that many families should cooperate to form a State.
There are two societies which are perfect — the Church and the State. The end of the State is the temporal welfare of the community. It seeks to realize the conditions which are requisite in order that its members may be able to attain temporal felicity. It protects the rights, and furthers the interests of the individuals and the groups of individuals which belong to it. All other societies which aim in any manner at temporal good are necessarily imperfect. Either they exist ultimately for the good of the State itself; or, if their aim is the private advantage of some of its members, the State must grant them authorization, and protect them in the exercise of their various functions. Should they prove dangerous to it, it justly dissolves them. The Church also possesses the conditions requisite for a perfect society. That its end is not subordinate to that of any other society is manifest: for it aims at the spiritual welfare, the eternal felicity, of man. This is the highest end a society can have; it is certainly not an end subordinate to the temporal felicity aimed at by the State. Moreover, the Church is not dependent on the permission of the State in the attaining of its end. Its right to exist is derived not from the permission of the State, but from the command of God. Its right to preach the Gospel, to administer the sacraments, to exercise jurisdiction over its subjects, is not conditional on the authorization of the civil Government. It has received from Christ Himself the great commission to teach all nations. To the command of the civil Government that they should desist from preaching, the Apostles replied simply that they ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Some measure of temporal goods is, indeed, necessary to the Church to enable it to carry out the work entrusted to it. The State cannot justly prohibit it from receiving this from the benefactions of the faithful. Those whose duty it is to achieve a certain end have a right to possess the means necessary to accomplish their task.
Pope Leo XIII summed up this doctrine in his Encyclical “Immortale Dei” (1 November, 1885) on the Christian constitution of States: “The Church”, he says, “is distinguished and differs from civil society; and, what is of highest moment, it is a society chartered as of right divine, perfect in its nature and its title to possess in itself and by itself through the will and loving kindness of its Founder, all needful provision for its maintenance and action. And just as the end at which the Church aims is by far the noblest of ends, so is its authority the most excellent of all authority, nor can it be looked on as inferior to the civil power, or in any manner dependent upon it.” It is to be observed that though the end at which the Church aims is higher than that of the State, the latter is not, as a society, subordinate to the Church. The two societies belong to different orders. The temporal felicity at which the State aims is not essentially dependent on the spiritual good which the Church seeks. Material prosperity and a high degree of civilization may be found where the Church does not exist. Each society is Supreme in its own order. At the same time each contributes greatly to the advantage of the other. The church cannot appeal to men who have not some rudiments of civilization, and whose savage mode of life renders moral development impossible. Hence, though her function is not to civilize but to save souls, yet when she is called on to deal with savage races, she commences by seeking to communicate the elements of civilization to them. On the other hand, the State needs the Supernatural sanctions and spiritual motives which the Church impresses on its members. A civil order without these is insecurely based.
It has often been objected that the doctrine of the Church’s independence in regard to the State would render civil government impossible. Such a theory, it is urged, creates a State within a State; and from this, there must inevitably result a conflict of authorities each claiming supreme dominion over the same subjects. Such was the argument of the Gallican Regalists. The writers of this school, consequently, would not admit the claim of the Church to be a perfect society. They maintained that any jurisdiction which it might exercise was entirely dependent on the permission of the civil power. The difficulty, however, is rather apparent than real. The scope of the two authorities is different, the one belonging to what is temporal, the other to what is spiritual. Even when the jurisdiction of the Church involves the use of temporal means and affects temporal interests, it does not detract from the due authority of the State. If difficulties arise, they arise, not by the necessity of the case, but from some extrinsic reason. In the course of history, occasions have doubtless arisen, when ecclesiastical authorities have grasped at power which by right belonged to the State, and, more often still, when the State has endeavoured to arrogate to itself spiritual jurisdiction. This, however, does not show the system to be at fault, but merely that human perversity can abuse it. So far, indeed, is it from being true that the Church’s claims render government impossible, that the contrary is the case. By determining the just limits of liberty of conscience, they are a defence to the State. Where the authority of the Church is not recognized, any enthusiast may elevate the vagaries of his own caprice into a Divine command, and may claim to reject the authority of the civil ruler on the plea that he must obey God and not man. The history of John of Leyden and of many another self-styled prophet will afford examples in point. The Church bids her members see in the civil power “the minister of God”, and never justifies disobedience, except in those rare cases when the State openly violates the natural or the revealed law.
By George Joyce
This article is borrowed from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03744a.htm.
Among the writings of the Fathers, the following are the principal works which bear on the doctrine of the Church: ST. IRENÆUS, Adv. Hæreses in P.G., VII; TERTULLIAN, De Prescriptionibus in P. L., II; ST. CYPRIAN, De Unitate Ecclesie in P.L., IV; ST. OPTATUS, De Schismate Donatistarum in P.L., XI; ST. AUGUSTINE, Contra Donatistas, Contra Epistolas Parmeniani, Contra Litteras Petiliani in P.L., XLIII; ST. VINCENT OF LÉRINS, Commonitorium in P.L., L. — Of the theologians who in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries defended the Catholic Church against the Reformers may be mentioned: STAPLETON, Principiorum Fidei Doctrinalium Demonstratio (1574; Paris, 1620); BELLARMINE, Disputationes de Controversiis Fidei (1576; Prague, 1721); SUAREZ, Defensio Fidea Catholicoe adversus Anglicanoe Sectoe Errores (1613; Paris, 1859). — Among more recent writers: MURRAY, De Ecclesiâ (Dublin, 1866); FRANZLIN, De Ecclesiâ (Rome, 1887); PALMIERI, De Romano Pontifice (Prato, 1891); DÖLLINGER, The First Age of the Church (tr. London, 1866); SCHANZ, A Christian Apology (tr. Dublin, 1892). — The following English works may also be noticed: WISEMAM, Lectures on the Church; NEWMAN, Development of Christian Doctrine; IDEM, Difficulties of Anglicans; MATHEW, ed., Ecclesia (London, 1907). In special relation to recent rationalist criticism regarding the primitive Church and its organization, may be noted: BATIFFOL, Etudes d’histoire et de la théologie positive (Paris, 1906); important articles by Mgr. Batiffol will also he found in the Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique for 1904, 1905, 1906, and in the Irish Theological Quarterly for 1906 and 1907; DE SMEDT in the Revue des questions historiques (1888, 1891), vols. XLIV, CL; BUTLER in The Dublin Review (1893, 1897), vols. CXIII, CXXI. The following works are by Anglican divines of various schools of thought: PALMER, Treatise on the Church (1842); GORE, Lux Mundi (London, 1890); IDEM, The Church and the Ministry (London, 1889); HORT, The Christian Ecciesia (London, 1897); LIGHTFOOT, the dissertation entitled The Christian Ministry in his Commentary on Epistle to Philippians (London, 1881); GAYFORD in HASTING, Dict. of Bible, s.v. Church. Amongst rationalist critics may be mentioned: HARNACK, History of Dogma (tr. London, 1904); IDEM, What is Christianity? (tr. London, 1901), and articles in Expositor (1887), vol. V; HATCH, Organization of the Early Christian Churches (London, 1880); WEISZÄCKER, Apostolic Age (tr. London, 1892); SABATIER, Religions of Authority and the Religion of the Spirit (tr. London, 1906); LOWRIE, The Church and its Organization — an Interpretation of Rudolf Sohm’s ‘Kirchenrecht” (London, 1904). With these may be classed: LOISY, L’Evangile et l’Église (Paris, 1902).
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APA citation. (1908). The Church. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 29, 2022 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03744a.htm
MLA citation. “The Church.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 29 Jul. 2022 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03744a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.