Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

The Foundation and Identity of the Church

by Jeffrey A. Mirus, Ph.D.


This is the sixth chapter in the apologetics text published at Christendom College by Jeffrey Mirus, who edited the work and contributed three of the chapters.

Larger Work

Reasons for Hope



Publisher & Date

Christendom Press, 1978

At first thought it would seem almost superfluous to attempt to prove the establishment by Christ of so obvious an institution as a Church. But, having proved the divinity of Christ, one must logically be concerned with the question of what Christ wants for men today. There is certainly no dispute over what He wills in general, for his whole purpose in coming was to give life—to redeem men from sin and restore them to the presence of the Father, without whom nothing lives at all. It is no secret, then, why we must “be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Christ's mission was to save us all.

But Jesus knew he would one day leave the world and return to the Father. Indeed, he did so to prepare a place for his disciples (John 14:1-4). He also knew many men and women would be born after his ascension, a multitude of human persons who would need the very salvation he had come to offer. Surely he must have left behind some mechanism by which his mission could be carried out across the ages. We would therefore expect to see a Church claiming divine foundation in history. The burden of proof is clearly on those who argue for the incomprehensible absence of such a society. Still, there is much specific to say about our Lord's foundation of His Church, and much to explain about the characteristics of that body.

John the Baptist was the last of the prophets of Israel, the ancient people of God. By his own words his purpose was to make straight the way of the Lord, to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. John's arrest by Herod abruptly ended the time of preparation, and Jesus immediately appeared in Galilee, proclaiming: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The circumstances show the clear link of the new kingdom of God with the preparatory kingdom of the Chosen People under the Old Covenant, a visible society dedicated to the Lord. But what was this new kingdom to be? At first glance it is hard to describe, for it “is not of this world” (John 18:36), and its coming is not perceived by “observation” (Luke 17:20).

Nonetheless, to usher in the reign of God, Jesus established something that he actually called a Church, in the ancient sense of a religious society united in the service of God. He told Peter that he would found the Church upon him, and on the practical matter of fraternal correction, he cautioned his followers to refer a difficult person to the Church. “If he ignores even the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17). Clearly, then, the Church was intended to be a visible, external and social body which people could concretely identify. The apostles were indeed to be fishers of men.

This point is borne out in ways too numerous to mention, but a good example would be Christ's continual use of the shepherd-and-flock image for the relationship between himself and his followers. On one occasion he specifically declared to his flock that “it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). The close connection between the visible flock and the invisible kingdom is stressed in these words. In addition, Jesus used parables to indicate that the kingdom of God includes both good and bad men. It is like a net thrown into the sea which collects all sorts of things, some of which are useless and must be thrown away after the net has been filled and hauled ashore (Matt. 13:47ff). This parable, like that of the cockles (or weeds) (Matt. 13:24ff), proves that God's kingdom is not purely inner and spiritual. There is therefore no need to argue that it cannot be seen. Finally, this kingdom—and this church—is to grow geographically, like a mustard seed, as penance for the remission of sins is “preached to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).

In addition to being a visible society, Christ's Church was to have leadership. After John's imprisonment our Lord picked twelve apostles. They are constantly given special prominence in the gospels, Acts and epistles. He sent them forth on experimental missions of preaching and most importantly, he gave them authority over men: “I assure you, whatever you declare bound on earth shall be held bound in heaven, and whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be held loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). Finally, just prior to his Ascension, Jesus told these apostles to go and make disciples of all nations, to proclaim to all the good news. “The man who believes in it and accepts baptism will be saved; the man who refuses to believe in it will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Of Peter's special commission to leadership more will be said in a later chapter. St. Paul himself affirmed the central truth that the Church is built on the “foundation of the apostles” (Eph. 2:20). The very purpose of the Church, of course, required that it have the power to govern. The only condition was that the apostles remain in Jerusalem until “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). This is a direct reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which is therefore called the birthday of the Church. As would be expected, immediately after Pentecost we find the apostles taking the lead in preaching, making laws, settling disputes, censuring errors and the like.

Beyond leadership, or the power of rule, a necessary general characteristic of Christ's Church would be that it have all the means necessary to fulfill its purpose. Chief among these would be the powers to teach and to sanctify, and what we reason to be true again turns out to be the case. For the apostles were commanded to teach men to “carry out everything” that the Lord had ordered (Matt. 28:20), and they were promised in this the assistance of the Holy Spirit, who would instruct them in all things, and remind them of what Jesus had said (John 14:26). Moreover, they were promised Christ's own presence “until the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). The divine sanction accorded to the apostles' preaching of the gospel has already been mentioned. Jesus further told them, “He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me” (Luke 10:16).

As for sanctification, the very purpose of the Church again implies this power. It subsists chiefly in the conferral of the sacraments, for the apostles were told to baptize all men (Matt. 28:19), to reenact the Eucharist in memory of Christ (Luke 22:19), and to forgive men's sins (Luke 24:47; John 20:23). St. Paul made this role of the apostles and those they commissioned clear, when he said, “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1).

With these things in mind, we may now form an accurate general picture of the Church Christ founded. It is a visible community characterized by the promise of Christ's help in teaching, ruling and sanctifying. Or, to paraphrase Bellarmine, the Church is a group of men who profess the same faith and enjoy the same means of sanctification united under their apostolic pastors, constituting the kingdom of God on earth.

There are certain other specific characteristics of the Church Christ founded which deserve special attention. First, the Church is perpetual. Daniel the prophet had long ago foretold that the Messiah would establish a kingdom that would never be destroyed (Dan. 2:44). Jesus promised to be with the Church until the end of the world and said that the “gates of hell” would “not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). This Church will not know death. It is, as St. Paul taught, a living body with Christ at its head (1 Cor. 12:12ff; Eph. 4:16). The bishops of this Church are given authority by the Holy Spirit Himself to rule the “Church of God” which Jesus “purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Such divine sanction and holy power could never pass away.

The Church of Christ is also necessary. It is not something which men may reject without consequence. The man who refuses to believe the apostles' preaching will be condemned, as we have seen, and Jesus taught solemnly that “no one can enter into God's kingdom without being begotten of water and Spirit” (John 3:5), a clear reference to baptism. Jesus claimed to be the way, truth and life. “No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6), he said. When this passage is coupled with St. Paul's teaching about the Church as Christ's body, the meaning becomes clear. The text also apparently refers to the sacramental ministry itself, for Jesus taught that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). The parable of the good shepherd (John 10) confirms this idea of the necessity of the Church, for only in the flock of the Lord will men find safety.

The Church is also infallible. On the point of how this infallibility is exercised, more will be said in the commentary on papal primacy, but Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would teach them “all truth” (John 16:13). He also gave such strong sanction to their teaching that we cannot doubt that he intended it to be free from error. St. Paul made much of this, calling the Church the “pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). He rejoiced in that Christians were no longer like children, “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). All of this is, of course, consistent with the divine plan for man's salvation, and with Christ's presence in his Church. Again, we should be logically surprised if the opposite were the case.

The visibility of the Church has already been suggested, as has its character as a perfect society. The Church is to be “a city seated on a mountain” (Matt. 5:14). All the early writers, such as Pope St. Clement and St. Ignatius of Antioch as well as great Fathers such as St. Augustine, stressed that the Church is a real union of Christians under the authority of, and in harmony with, their pastors. It is quite obvious that if men are bound by Christ to enter the Church in order to attain salvation, they must be able to recognize it clearly. The Church is in fact far more than a mere collection of individuals, but a flawless society by virtue of its supreme purpose, and of its possession of and divine right to all the means necessary and helpful to achieve that purpose. The Church is thus the very embodiment of Christ's will for men.

One of the great objections to the notion that Christ founded a Church with the characteristics enumerated above arises from the scattered image we receive of the Church in the first years, and even centuries, after its founder's death and Resurrection. Much of the deficiency in that image arises from a lack of sources for so ancient a period, especially a period in which no state archives were preserving Christian records. In recent years, the picture of the early Church has filled out immeasurably, but on any account, an impartial examination of the evidence confirms conclusions derived from a reading of the gospels.

It is, after all, merely the interpretation of modern prejudice that there was little Church structure in the earliest times. The epistles and Acts of the Apostles are quiet when it comes to complete descriptions of ecclesiastical organization only because they take it for granted. St. Paul's letters are in the main directed to specific churches or presbyters of churches in communities he evangelized. St. Luke, in Acts, devoted much space to Paul's efforts to found churches in the various parts of the world, and the picture of Christian life he portrayed is one of persons attempting to transform their lives according to a gospel they have received under apostolic authority. These men and women are warned to beware of false teachers (2 Cor. 11:13), and to accept the authority of those appointed over them (Rom. 13:1; 16:17-20).

The very writing of the gospels testifies to the existence of communities that would need a written record of Christ's teachings as the original apostles died. The believers in such communities were first called Christians in Antioch in the early '40's, within a generation of Christ's death. Moreover, the Christians in Antioch were mindful of churches in other cities, as when they sent relief to their fellows in Judea who were being overcome by famine. Within the churches themselves there was a great effort to pool resources and promote the good of the body as a whole. Who can forget the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who only pretended to give the proceeds from the sale of their property to the apostles for the work of God? Called to account by Peter for their lie before the Holy Spirit, they were struck dead on the spot (Acts 5:1-11).

The sacramental ministry was crucial to such erring souls, and even in the earliest documents we see the great concern for this ministry. Paul had to correct the abuses of the Corinthians in the celebration of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 17-34), and his instructions concerning marriage are voluminous (e.g., 1 Cor. 7). James reminded the priests to anoint the sick (James 5:14). At the Council of Jerusalem the apostles heard that many had accepted Christ in Samaria, and so Peter and John journeyed to confirm them in the faith (Acts 8:15-16). Paul and Barnabus installed bishops and priests in the churches they established on their journeys (Acts 14:23). Everywhere the apostles and their successors brought the initiation of baptism and the forgiveness of sins.

It is clear from all this activity that the Church had hierarchical direction from the very first. The hierarchy was at work when Peter decided that the Gentiles as well as the Jews were called by Christ. It was at work in the person of James (Zebedee's son) who was left in charge of Jerusalem when the others departed on the various missions. And we have a conclusive example of hierarchical direction in the first apostolic Council of Jerusalem, when the apostles and presbyters gathered to discuss and decide the vexing question of the circumcision of the gentiles. These presbyters were the episcopal leaders of the communities founded by the travelling apostles, and they were permitted to share in the apostolic deliberations. It is no surprise that we find Pope St. Clement referring to the “high priest” and “priests” of the Christian communities as early as 96 A.D.(1) Nor are we shocked when St. Ignatius, writing about the year 100, argued that the “presbytery is tuned to its bishop, like the strings to a lyre, and thus in...concord and harmonious love Christ Jesus is praised.”(2)

This evidence is more remarkable in that it comes from a period in which the Christians were suffering intense persecution at the hands of Jews and Romans alike. We would expect very little of the trappings of power in such an age, and it is well-nigh miraculous that any documents at all survived. Beginning with Stephen's stoning at the hands of the Sanhedrin and Peter's inverted crucifixion by the Emperor, the Church lived under

continuous threat of violence for nearly three centuries. It is not too much to say that the very existence of this beleaguered society proves its miraculous foundation by the Son of God.

Nonetheless, there remains the problem of identifying the Church Christ established in our own time, amid all the blare and confusion of competing claims, and all the deadening deafness of indifference. For this reason, it is of vital importance to take up once again the close examination of the Church, this time less from the point of view of external description and more from the point of view of its defining essence. It is to a consideration of the pre-eminent marks of the Church that we now turn.

In truth, one can find the true Church in three ways, by the study of history, by deductions about the nature of the Church from the data of history, and by one's own experience of the Church in the modern world. It is to the second approach that the way of the marks applies, for a mark is precisely a visible and essential characteristic of the Church, several of which taken together can positively point to that body which is in fact the true Church in any age whatsoever. Leading theologians have been concerned from an early date to establish a definitive catalogue of marks, and as early as the Council of Nicaea the four traditional marks of the Creed were singled out. The Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

The oneness or unity of the Church arises quite obviously from its constitution, which has already been partially described and will be further elucidated in the chapter on the papacy. The monarchical direction which Christ established in Peter made it clear that there would be a unity of faith, rule and communion among all those who heard the voice of the Good Shepherd. The Church, as a society designed to teach divine revelation, could have been constructed only in such a way as to guarantee that Christians be united in one faith which would be taught under one jurisdictional authority. In addition to this administrative unity, however, Christ intended to bring about unity through a common eating of his body and through a common baptism, by which all would become one in him.

The images Christ used to describe his Church likewise bespeak its fundamental unity. He referred to it as a kingdom which falls when divided against itself; and as a household, which under similar conditions experiences the same fate. He called it a flock with one shepherd and a building with one foundation. But the most moving testimony to the indispensable unity of his Church was his prayer for his disciples at the Last Supper as recorded in the gospel of John:

O Father, most Holy, protect them with your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.... Consecrate them by means of truth—`Your word is truth.' As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world, that they may be consecrated in truth. (John 17:11,17-19)

In this prayer Jesus willed that his apostles all bear, and be protected by, one and the same name. He willed further that they would be unified in their total abandonment in dedication to the truth he had come to offer. And this unity was willed also for all who would come to believe through his apostles as the Church grew: “I do not pray for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you” (John 17:20-21). Lest there be any doubt that this mark of unity was to be essential and visible, Jesus concluded with these words: “I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe you sent me” (John 17:21) and, again, “so shall the world know that you sent me, and that you loved them as you loved me” (John 17:23). Once again we are not surprised that St. Paul advised that the faithful avoid those guilty of dissension (Rom. 16:17f), for, as St. Luke recorded, “The community of believers had but one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32).

No less important is the mark of holiness. The very consecration in truth for which Jesus prayed was a prayer for his disciples' surpassing holiness. He had already asked the Father “to guard them from the Evil One” (John 17:15). And still earlier, Jesus had told his followers that they needed greater justice than that possessed by the Scribes and Pharisees if they were to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). He intended that, through the Eucharist, he himself would abide in men (John 6:56), and he promised his followers the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom they would recognize “because he remains with you and will be within you” (John 14:17). Again, this holiness was to be visible; his disciples were to be the light of the world, shining “before men so that they may see goodness in your acts” (Matt. 5:14, 16).

The holiness of the Church, of course, is not manifest in every member. The cockles and weeds will grow also until the harvest. But since the Church was instituted with divine protection to sanctify men, the mark of holiness is essential to it. The Church has this mark in two ways. First, she has active holiness, or the means which produce union with God. Primarily referring to the sacraments, this active holiness also includes the doctrine of the Church by which men are brought to an understanding of the good, and the discipline of the Church by which they are schooled in the habits of a virtuous life. The Church, clearly, is not the cause of the evil in sinners.

Second, the Church has passive holiness, or the union itself of its members to God. This aspect of holiness admits of degrees, as indicated in the parable of the talents. Holiness may be ordinary, perfect, or heroic. In any degree, it is a visible mark for, as Christ said, “You can tell a tree by its fruit” (Matt. 7:20). He specifically called his disciples “to go forth and bear fruit” (John 15:16), and he exhorted them to the evangelical counsels, such as poverty, chastity and obedience. This holiness of the Church, especially in its greatest saints, is also characterized by charismatic holiness, through which Christ said his disciples would be able to perform extraordinary works (Mark 16:17-18). What Christ willed and invited men to achieve must inevitably be an essential characteristic of the Church he founded.

Like holiness, the catholicity of the Church arises from its divinely guaranteed efficacy. Just as men will become personally holy by contact with the Church, so too will the Church reach ever more men as it spreads through space and time. This mark of catholicity is also rooted in the will of Christ, who stated that all power had been given to him, sending his apostles to teach all nations, protected by his presence until the end of time (Matt. 28:18-20). Such catholicity belongs to Christ's Church by divine right, but Jesus also foresaw the visible fact of its realization. Many would come from east and west to the banquet in his kingdom (Matt. 8:11), and when Jesus was lifted up he would draw all men to himself (John 12:32). Most explicitly, Christ proclaimed that “this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a witness to all the nations. Only after that will the end come” (Matt. 24:14).

The apostles, upon reception of the Holy Spirit, were to be Christ's witnesses “even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In the parable of the sower, Jesus stated that the field is the entire world. Peter himself was sent to the Gentiles, and earlier many tongues had been spoken on Pentecost, a clear indication of the universal mission of the Church from the day it was born. St. Paul indicated how fundamentally this mark of universality was grounded in the mind of Christ when he said that Christ “will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4-6). But God does not violate the free will of man, and so we cannot view the catholicity of this Church as a physical thing. That is, not every person in ail places and times will become part of the Church. Rather, this catholicity is moral—a substantial number of men among all those to whom the gospel is preached do indeed embrace the faith.

The fourth mark of the Church arises neither from its constitution nor its efficacy, but rather from its very origin, for by apostolicity is meant a vital and unbroken connection of Christ's Church in all ages to the apostles in whom that Church was launched. Traditionally, this apostolicity applies to teaching, sanctifying and ruling, all three of which have been previously discussed, and all three of which may be deduced from the famous close of St. Matthew's gospel (28:18-20) which has been so frequently referred to in other connections.

In the case of teaching, Christ's Church will always be characterized by a consistency in doctrine from the first age to the last. No contradictions in the official proclamations of faith will arise. As for sanctifying, the appropriate sacramental means must be passed on from apostle to successor without interruption, for those means cannot exist unless they have been received from those to whom they have been given. Likewise, in the matter of ruling, there must be an identifiable succession in authority from the original twelve who first began to build up the kingdom of God.

There is a crucial passage in this regard which by its brevity is often overlooked. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21), said the same Jesus who had been given all power by the Father for the redemption of men. There can be no question that the apostles were to play a truly Christlike role in the Lord's Church; and no question that any who would have Christ's own power in the future must receive it from them. We have seen how these apostles appointed successors and assistants (the chief among whom were alternately called presbyters and bishops) to carry on when they departed. St. Paul gave both Timothy and Titus thorough instructions on the selection of such stewards of God, and urged their appointment in every town (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5). And in his letter to the Romans, Paul perhaps best summarized the mark of apostolicity in a single question: “How can men preach unless they are sent?” (10:15).

The Church has many other characteristics besides these four marks, but many of these qualities are invisible and so do not attain to the status of a mark, by which the true Church may be singled out. From a consideration of the marks themselves, however, it must by now be obvious that the emerging picture is of the Roman Catholic Church, which alone has all four marks—all the essential and visible characteristics of that body founded by Jesus Christ.

Unity and apostolicity are perhaps the easiest to demonstrate. The Catholic Church is pre-eminent among all other religious bodies in the monarchical character of its rule. In point of fact, it is the only Christian Church which even claims that a single bishop has universal and total authority to govern. That bishop, and the papal office he possesses, have been objects of continual attack by bodies lacking any singleness of rule, and the difference between the unity generated by the voice of the one shepherd and the disunity of these wolves and marauders has been only highlighted by the continuing controversy.

Similarly with apostolicity, only the Catholic Church has ever claimed to have a continuous succession in its highest office from Peter, the chief of the apostles. In the face of the vast majority of the churches of the West, the Catholic Church has also proclaimed—and is able to demonstrate—both the fact and the value of apostolic succession for all its bishops. Likewise, this church has been continuously accused of being unwilling to change its teachings, and often charged with being out of date. By the testimony of her enemies she has stuck obstinately to the unchanging revelation of Christ to his apostles, that men might be brought to the fullness of truth and life. Thus she has been stable in her rule, continuous in the transmission of her sanctifying or sacramental power, and consistent in her teaching for nearly two thousand years.

The case for catholicity and holiness is somewhat less simple because both marks admit of degrees. Nonetheless, it is clear from modern statistics that in every known land where the gospel has been preached, a notable number of persons have become Catholics. Catholic missionary effort over the centuries (and even at present) far outstrips that of any other church. It is no surprise, although it is not a hard proof, that there are more Catholics than there are all other Christians together, indeed more than any other single religion of any type. And where the gospel has only lately been preached, there too the conversions continue apace. The Church is confined to no particular place and, equally important, she has been confined to no particular time. As a living and growing organism she has outlived the Roman civilization which attempted to destroy her and the Medieval civilization she so largely helped to create. The evidence grows that, weakened though she may now be, she has far more vitality than the modern civilization which has departed from her truths.

As for holiness, it is interesting to note both the persistent insistence on the sacraments which marks the life of the Roman Catholic Church and the remarkable number of saints which grace her calendar. These saints have come from every age, race, nation and background. Their holiness has been sufficiently varied in its unique qualities to attract at times even the most hardened of their enemies. Even the process of canonization, so highly developed in the Church of Rome, is a minor proof of her possession of the mark of sanctity.

A pause is due here to consider the negative side—the shortcomings of the other claimants to holiness. What sane modern would dare compare the founders of Catholicism, men such as Peter, John, James and Paul, to the founders of either Protestantism or the Eastern churches. Men such as Photius and Luther or Calvin may be noted for their theological thought or their great impact on history; they are not acclaimed for the heroic spotlessness of their personal lives. The least saint of the Catholic Counter Reformation of the sixteenth century, which included the likes of Loyola, Neri, Xavier and de Sales, looms even in the popular secular imagination as a far holier figure than the very founders of other churches and sects.

Were we to negatively apply the entire catalogue of marks, the outcome would be the same. If we considered catholicity, we would find that the eastern schismatics, the episcopalians and the evangelical protestants have never come near to achieving it, but have been firmly rooted both in place and time. If we referred to apostolicity in the ministry, the historical record would show that the episcopalians or Anglicans have lost the succession half by design and half by accident and that the evangelical protestants have purposefully rejected it as having no value. If we took up the question of unity, the separatist impulses of protestantism and the patriarchal divisions of the eastern churches would prevent us from perceiving true community apart from Rome. The four marks of the Church conspire against their very detractors to point the way to the true Church of Christ. As marks, they exist whether men perceive them or not; taken together by the one who seeks to know, they identify the Roman Catholic Church as gloriously as the teachings of our Lord himself.

This last observation brings us to a final point. For, protected and sustained by the grace of God, the Catholic Church exhibits a character in history far superior to what can b expected to emerge by natural means. The First Vatican Council had the wisdom to teach that the Church, her lamp shining before men, is herself a motive of credibility. The Council pinpointed five reasons:(3) 1) the Church's admirable propagation under the most difficult conditions; 2) her exalted holiness; 3) her marvelous and unlimited fruitfulness in all good things; 4) her catholic unity against all natural obstacles; and, 5) her unconquered stability in the face of external attack and internal dissension. Of the first and last two reasons, much more will be said in connection with the Church's manifestation of her divine character in history. To slake our thirst after this long discussion, however, we drink again from the inexhaustible well of the Church's holiness and fecundity in all manner of works.

Her doctrine is free from error and from inducement to evil. It is ever conducive to a more perfect life than is attainable by the natural man alone. Her sacraments visibly signify the divine grace which they confer and the holy effects which follow from them. Her rule is vicarious; she is invested with authority by Christ himself unto the salvation of souls. And what has been the result? The ancient Romans wrote of Christians as models of peace and stability. The formation of civilization in the Middle Ages resulted from Christian monastic and missionary efforts; the Church bore fruit in the learning of the universities, a just political theory, a charitable economic order, and high achievement in music, art and. architecture. From the first she has continued all manner of charitable, educational and spiritual works on a total scale—and with a sacrificial effectiveness—far exceeding the humanitarianism of any government in any time.

The Church has secured men from error, safeguarded marriage and family life, and educated and advanced men from every class and rank. She has through her good works sought to create the conditions most conducive to man's progress toward his true end. Her ideals have taken shape in innumerable secular clergy, religious orders and lay institutes dedicated to exalted purposes of every kind. Her saints have included apostles, popes, doctors, founders of orders, preachers, confessors, rulers and less famous personages, both men and women. And in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Holy Roman Catholic Church has continuously embodied the very essence of her purpose and life: the perpetual reenactment of the Lamb's sacrifice for men, and the unceasing worship, praise and glory of the one true God.

Men who have perceived these things have come to her; there is little else to say. For Christ has ever nourished his flock through his Church, just as when he wished to feed the crowds, he first gave the bread to his disciples for distribution (Matt. 15:36). Yet he himself perceived the difficulties when he saw the crowds lying prostrate from exhaustion, “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36-37). His heart was moved with pity, as he instructed his apostles to “Beg the harvest master to send out laborers.” Then as now the harvest is great and the laborers are few. But it is for this work of His Church that Our Lord entered the world, and for this that he died on the cross. His purpose remains always the same: “to gather into one all the dispersed people of God” (John 11:51).


  1. Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, para. 40, in Colman J. Barry, O.S.B., ed., Readings in Church History, Vol. I (Newman Press, Westminster, Md., 1960).
  2. Ignatius to the Ephesians, para. 4, in Barry.
  3. Del Fillus, Vatican I, chapter 3.


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Fenton, Joseph C., We Stand with Christ (Bruce, Milwaukee: 1942) esp. chaps. XII, XVIII.

Fichter, Joseph H., S.J., Textbook in Apologetics (Bruce, Milwaukee: 1947)

Grasso, Domenico, S.J., The Problem of Christ (Alba House, Staten Is¬land, N.Y.: 1969) esp. Part II.

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