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Christ to Catholicism

The Church

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Memo to the Censor

This volume is intended as a textbook for Catholic colleges and universities, to be used in the junior or senior years or in specialized courses on the undergraduate level. While its emphasis is primarily doctrinal, the framework is historical, on the recommendation of teachers of college religion with years of experience in the classroom.

Besides the substantial text as given in the following pages, a number of inserts and an appendix are planned, pending discussion with the Loyola University Press. These will include a graphic illustration of the Church’s growth down the centuries, the evolution of Protestant and other bodies from Catholic Christianity, the Church’s expansion throughout the world and in the United States, and current data on Church membership, conversions and comparable statistics. Any suggestions on these or other items to improve the book will be gratefully received by the writer.

As indicated in the Introduction, an effort was made to penetrate beneath the surface and go beyond what may be considered a popular manual in college religion. Here again the procedure was suggested by teachers who feel that the student is quite capable of such penetration and, in fact, needs it if religion is ever to match the academic respect enjoyed by other courses in the college curriculum.

Thank you

Table of Contents

	Why Study About the Church?
	Various Approaches to Ecclesiology
	Principles and Methodology
		Origin of the Church
		Identification of the True Church
		Nature of the Church
		Relation to Other Persons and Societies

Part One: Apologetic Foundations

		The Kingdom of Heaven and Earth
		Fulfillment of the Messianic Prophecies
		Calling of the Twelve Apostles
		Uniformity of Doctrine
		Community of Worship and Ritual
		The Primacy of Peter and His Successors
			Simon Peter as the Leading Apostle
			Promise and Conferral of the Primacy
			Only Peter Receives the Primacy
			Primacy of Authority
			Authority Given to Peter’s Successors
			Church as a Permanent Institution
			Need of Infallible Authority
			Unity of the Church and Final Authority

		The Primacy in the Acts of the Apostles
			Election of Matthias the Apostle
			Beginning of the Christian Apostolate
			First Apostolic Miracles
			Witness to the Name of Jesus
			Exercise of Judicial Power
			Visitation of the Christian Communities
			Presiding at the Council of Jerusalem
		St. Peter in Rome
			First Epistle of St. Peter
			Clement of Rome to the Corinthians
			Gaius the Presbyter on the Tombs of the Apostles
			Tomb of St. Peter at the Vatican

		 Clement of Rome to the Corinthians
		 Easter Controversy
		 Tertullian and Montanism
		 St. Cyprian and the Rebaptism of Heretics
		 Christological Heresies
		 	Gnosticism, Ireneus and Rome
		 	Modalism and Tritheism
		 From Ephesus to the Vatican Council

		Phenomenal Propagation of Catholic Christianity
			First Three Centuries of the Christian Era
			Growth of the Church in Modern Times
		Exalted Sanctity and Miracles
			Historical Evidence of Holiness
			Miracles as the Fruit of Sanctity
		Inexhaustible Fruitfulness in Benefiting Mankind
			Revelation Identified by the Catholic Church
			Church as Custodian of the Revealed Word
			Natural Benefits Derived from Divine Revelation
		The Catholic Unity of Roman Catholicism
			Catholic Unity in Faith and Doctrine
			Disunity Outside of Roman Catholicism
		The Church’s Invincible Stability
			Constancy of Apostolic Doctrine
			Stability of Catholic Worship and Government

Part Two: Dogmatic Ecclesiology

		The Church as a Visible, Juridical Society
		The Church as the Mystical Body of Christ

		The Catholic Church is a Body
		Consequences of the Church’s Bodily Character
			Visible Perceptibility
			Uniting in Multiplicity
			Sustenance through the Sacraments
		Membership in the Mystical Body
			Incorporation in the Church through Baptism
			Profession of the True Faith
			Status of Baptized Non-Catholics
			Schismatics Excluded from the Church
			Excommunication from the Mystical Body

		Christ the Originator of His Body
			Preparation of the Mystical Body
			Birth of the Church on the Cross
			The Church’s Manifestation at Pentecost
		Christ the Head of the Mystical Body
			Pre-eminence of Jesus Christ
			Invisible Ruler of the Church
			Government through a Visible Head
			From Christ through the Bishops
			Mutual Need of Head and Members
			Principle of Similarity
			Plenitude and Communication
		The Soul of the Mystical Body
			The Holy Spirit as the Soul of the Church
			Soul of the Church is the Spirit of Christ
			Mystical Body as the Whole Christ
		Christ the Savior of the Mystical Body

		Mystical Higher Than a Moral Unity
		Mystical Versus Physical Body of Christ
		Visible Source of Invisible Grace
			Supernatural Providence through External Media
			Mystical as a Causal Conjunction of the Material and Spiritual

		Meaning of Infallibility
		Infallibility of the Apostles
		Infallibility of the Bishops Under the Roman Pontiff
		The Vatican Definition
		History of the Opposition to Papal Infallibility
			Council of Constance
			Councils of Basle and Florence
			Luther and the Protestant Reformers
			Gallicanism and Jansenism
		The Evidence of Scripture and Tradition
			Primacy Includes Infallibility
			Witness of Tradition from Apostolic Times
			Historical Testimony to an Infallible Primacy
		Subject and Conditions of Papal Infallibility
			Papal Infallibility as Personal
			Separate Infallibility
			Is Papal Infallibility Absolute
		Object and Scope of Infallible Teaching
		Solution of Historical Problems
			Liberius versus Athanasius
			Zosimus and the Pelagians
			Vigilius’ Change of Mind
			Honorius Condemned as a “Heretic”
			John XXII on the Beatific Vision
			Galileo’s Condemnation

		The Ancient Tradition
		Teaching of the Church
		Statement of the Problem
		Salvation without Actual Membership
			St. Ambrose on the Death of Valentinian
			St. Augustine and Catholic Catechumen's
			Priority of Faith to Baptism According to St. Bernard
			Baptism of Desire in the “Summa Theologica”
			Pius IX on Invincible Ignorance
			Vatican Definition of Salvific Faith
		Tentative Solutions
			Melchior Cano
			St. Robert Bellarmine
		Non-Catholics Related to the Church by Intention and Desire
			Necessity of the Church by Divine Mandate
			Necessity of the Church as a Means of Salvation
			Meaning of Adherence to the Church by Implicit Intention
		The Church as an Instrument of Grace for Non-Catholics
		Knowledge of the Minimal Essentials of Salvation
			Indispensable Acceptance of Revelation
			The Obligation of Baptism
			Belief in the Trinity and Incarnation
		Universal Source of Supernatural Grace
			Communication of the Holy Spirit
			Only in and through the Church of Which Christ is Head
			Sacrifice of the Mass for all Mankind
			Prayers and Sacrifices for the Non-Catholic World

		Origins of the World Council of Churches
		Constitution of the World Council of Churches
		Concept of Non-Catholic Unity
			Unity Derived from the Person of Christ
			Unity of the Church in its Earthly Pilgrimage
			Church’s Unity Partially Realized
		Confessions of Disunity
			Historical Review of Christian Disunity
			Proposed Remedies
		Evaluation of Ecumenical Theology
			Uncertainty about the Nature of the Church
			Lutheran Concept of Inevitable Disunity
			Practice in Contradiction to Theory
		Prospects for the Future
		Catholic Attitude toward the Ecumenical Movement
			Desire of Reunion
			Presenting the Catholic Position
			Ecumenical Meetings with Non-Catholics
		Unity Based on Truth

		Duties of Citizenship in the New Testament
		Loyalty Under Duress
		Edict of Milan
		Catholicism Established as the State of Religion
		Gelasian Formula of Two Powers in the World
		Gregorian Reformation
		Boniface VIII and Papal Absolutism
		Protestant Equality of the Temporal and Spiritual Power
		Cooperation of Church and State Against Slavery
		Syllabus of Errors
			Errors Regarding the Church and Her Rights
			Errors Regarding Education
			Errors Regarding Christian Marriage
		Leo XIII on Separation of Church and State
			Separation as Anti-Christianity
			Catholicism Without Preferential Status
			Constitution of Eire and Leonine Principles
		Two Basic Issues
			Divine Limitation of Civil Authority
			Principles of Religious Tolerance

		Authentic Meaning of the First Amendment
			Historical Background
			Purpose and Scope of the First Amendment
			Disestablishment Not Separation
		Leading Decisions of the Supreme Court
			Inviolability of Church-Affiliated Institutions
			Restriction of Religious Liberty for the Common Good
			Freedom to Propagate the Christian Religion
			Fourteenth Amendment Applied to Religious Freedom
			Freedom of Education Under Religious Auspices
			Free Textbooks to Parochial School Children
			Transportation to Denominational Schools
			Religious Exemption from Civil Duties and Practices
			Immunity from Prosecution for Personal Belief
			First Amendment Means Cooperation of Church and State
		Sectarian Influence on National Legislation
			Anti-Lottery Crusade
			Protection of Christian Science
			National prohibition
			Pacifists and Conscientious Objectors
			American Representation at the Vatican
		Legislation Affecting the Welfare of the Nation
			Federal Approval of Chaplaincies
			Inviolability of professional Religious Secrecy
			Religious Observances Authorized by Congress
			The Churches and Slavery
			Clerical Exemptions
			Unwritten Legislation

		Address of Bishop Carroll to George Washington
		Approval of American Religious Freedom
		No Divided Allegiance
		Encroachment on the Church’s Rights
		Directives to the Civil Government
		Catholic Motivation to Patriotism



We need motivation to study any subject, whether secular or religious, and some sort of method to make the study effective. Otherwise interest lags or even disappears, and what may be very useful or important is not taken seriously. And conversely, the better defined our motives for learning a field of knowledge, the more profit we derive from the investigation.

The science of the church is no exception. There is no prima facie evidence why a Catholic should know more than his basic obligations to the Church and how to remain a faithful member of the society to which he belongs. On reflection, however, we can see many reasons why a deeper understanding is more than useful, especially in modern times, and in several ways becomes essential for those who profess what the world around them does not believe.

Why Study About the Church

Since the Church is a divine institution which the Son of God personally established and during His visible stay on earth revealed as a continuance of the Incarnation, it would be less than ungrateful not to learn all we can about that marvelous reality which Christ “so loved that He delivered Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her and present to Himself the Church in all her glory.” If knowledge of any kind ennobles the human mind, and its value is determined by the sublimity of what is known, knowledge of the Church must rank near the acme of created science because it deals with nothing less than God, dwelling in His creatures and uniting them in a Body of which He is the invisible Head.

It is a platitude in Psychology that a thing is appreciated if it is understood. Although the Church is a mystery and therefore not fully comprehensible this side of heaven, it is nevertheless a truth susceptible of many levels of penetration. The deeper the penetration and clearer the insight, the more devoted will a Catholic become in the practice of his faith and more disposed to garner of its supernatural benefits. Is it permissible for a Catholic to be ignorant of what he possesses when even those who have no sympathy with Catholicism may admire its visible qualities almost to adulation? “The Roman Church,” wrote Harnack, “is the most comprehensive and the vastest, the most complicated and yet at the same time the most uniform structure which, as far as we know, history has produced. All the powers of the human mind and soul, and all the elemental forces at mankind’s disposal, have had a hand in creating it.” [1] Should a Catholic be so little informed that he could not make an equally favorable judgment about the society to which he belongs?

Following in the footsteps of her Founder, the Church has been a sign of contradiction to her enemies and a scandal to those outside of her fold. She has been opposed over the centuries as no other institution in history, and opposition is still one of the marks of her divinity. Catholics have to know how to meet the arguments leveled against their faith, if they are to preserve themselves inviolate from the criticism and hostility to which their profession is widely subject. For more than a century the area of conflict has been largely ecclesiological; where formerly the objections to Catholicism were on one of the dogmas, they are now directed against the foundation of the Church herself—her claim to juridical descent from Christ and the apostles, her profession of infallibility in matters of doctrine and morals, her title to independence of the state in all that concerns the spiritual welfare of her members, her right to tell the world that she is the unique channel of salvation and proclaim the obligations that even those who do not belong to her must keep if they are to reach eternal happiness.

Not everyone who is not a Catholic is opposed to the Church and, certainly in America, the majority seem well disposed to what she stands for and even ready to listen to her message and credentials. This imposes the corresponding duty on the faithful to make the Church better known and her teachings respected, not only among the unlearned but also in educated circles and among those who are most influential to affect the welfare of society. All of which presupposes more than uncommon knowledge of the Church’s origins, the scope of her ecclesiastical system and the perfect consonance of her doctrine, even the most abstruse, with sound reason and the deepest religious instincts of human nature.

Various Approaches to Ecclesiology

Depending on the end in view and the purpose for which the Church is investigated, different approaches are possible to the science of ecclesiology.

At the broadest level, the Church may be studied as a historical entity. We can trace her beginnings in the New Testament, through the apostolic age and the Fathers, up to the present time. In this way, the Church is treated as any other civil or religious institution, whose ancestry and development are a matter of record; persons, places and events are empirically verified and a consequent body of data is assembled for further and deeper analysis along theological lines. The historical method has the advantage of dealing with specific facts which no one may controvert and, even on this level, the Church appears as a phenomenon without parallel in the story of the human race. Moreover without this foundation in history, a study of the Church would lack the fiber and substance it requires to meet the current need for defending Catholicism against the assaults of historical criticism from men like Harnack, Lightfoot and Latourette. Harnack alone has published over twenty volumes on the origins of Christianity, with a concentration on the early patristic age. It would be naïve to suppose that a Catholic could answer without preparation a statement like Latourette’s, that “In the nineteenth century Protestantism had the larger share in the propagation of the faith and displayed the greater proportionate growth.” [2]

Another approach to the Church is the defensive or apologetic, which means the very opposite of regret or exculpation. It is the positive and forthright presentation of the Church’s right to be accepted as a divine legate, speaking in the name of God and empowered by Him to lead men to their appointed destiny. Using the materials quarried out of history, and combining these with the latest researches in biblical archeology, linguistics and even positive science, the apologetics of the Church establish her origins and prove that, alone of all institutions since the time of Christ, she has remained substantially unchanged in doctrine, discipline and juridical structure. From the Church as a visible phenomenon we are led, and can lead others, to believe in Him who is her invisible Head. In the words of St. Augustine, “Christ we have not seen, but we have the Church; let us therefore believe in Him. The Apostles saw Christ, they believed in the Church which they did not see. Let us who see the Church believe in Christ whom we do not yet see.” [3] As knowledge of the Church increases, faith in her Founder grows apace.

But more important than history of defense, and in fact, the purpose of both, is to study the Church dogmatically as a composite of mysterious truths that we may see now only darkly but are destined one day to understand with perfect clarity. Enlightened by faith we know that appearances are deceptive, that the Church is more than a visible society with a ruling hierarchy; as described in revelation she is the Spouse of Christ, the Temple of God, the Mystical Body, the heavenly Kingdom---where every concept is so rich in doctrinal meaning that a lifetime of study would not exhaust the contents. With food for the mind and meditation, knowledge of the Church also furnishes the most powerful stimulus for the practice of virtue. An isolated doctrine like the Church’s necessity for salvation, when thoroughly grasped, becomes an inspiration for apostolic zeal; our common incorporation in the Body of Christ becomes the motive for generous sacrifice and reparation; and the Church’s indefectibility a mainstay for proclaiming the laws of God with absolute conviction to an unbelieving world.

Principles and Methodology

In setting up the present volume, the basic principle which the author followed was to study the Church as a living reality that is not divorced from space and time. As far as possible, the abstract ideas of technical theology are clothed in the historical context in which they originally occurred, thus giving them an added dimension and greater intelligibility. Also the sequence of treatment is generally chronological, beginning with the gospel of the Kingdom, through the Church of the apostles, to the present day, when the great moral and social issues are being solved under the Church’s guidance.

The over-all plan covers four principal aspects of institutional Christianity, founded by Christ and identified with the Catholic Church of which the Roman Pontiff is visible head:

Origins of the Church. Starting with Christ’s vocation of the apostles, the Church’s origins are delineated from the gospel narrative, the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul, and carried through the first three centuries up to the Edict of Constantine. The main point is to establish the Church as a visible institution with a primacy of jurisdiction vested in St. Peter and his successors in the Roman See.
Identification of the True Church. Still on the apologetic plane, we examine the various claims of existing religious bodies to being, among Christians, the Church of Christ, and among others, sanctioned by God. Since only the Catholic Church has proved her claim by the performance of miraculous signs, only she (like Christ) has a right to proclaim her divine authority.
Nature of the Church. Having seen that the Church is authorized by God, we are in a position to accept her teaching about herself, her nature and function in human society. She regards herself as the Mystical body of Christ, whose purpose is to sanctify mankind and bring them, in union with Christ their Head, into the heavenly Kingdom of which the Church on earth is the militant counterpart. In order to safeguard the deposit of faith committed to her by Christ, the Church was endowed with the prerogative of infallibility, which makes the work of sanctification possible.
Relation to Other Persons and Societies. Not everyone belongs to the Church; yet no one can be saved except through her. Just what this means and how it can be done is epitomized in the formula Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. Correlative to the Church’s necessity for non-Catholics is their ecumenical effort to find some kind of unity which, though unwitting, is a movement in the direction of the true Church. Finally and inevitably, the Church’s claim to being a perfect society has come into conflict with political institutions and given rise to the problem of Church and State. Although the tension is as old as Christianity, the new character of civil society and religious pluralism (as in America) has radically affected the Church’s condition in modern times.

In the composition of this volume, the author had in mind a reading audience of American students in Catholic colleges and universities. Every phase of the subject was influenced by this orientation. By preference, issues and problems that have special bearing on the national scene were emphasized. Thus papal infallibility, the necessity of the Church for salvation, and Church-State relations are examined with a penetration which the author feels is not beyond the competence of men and women who need to understand these areas of their faith as clearly and profoundly as possible. The extensive treatment of the Mystical Body has a corresponding purpose, to lay the groundwork for a theological concept of society as the Catholic answer to Communist idealism.

Studies made in recent years agree that college people are capable of doing challenging work in the field of sacred doctrine and are as willing to expend themselves in theology as in the other disciplines of a university. Certainly the intellectual demands are just as great. It is hoped that Christ to Catholicism will contribute to this end, by offering the basic principles of ecclesiology in a language and form which appeal to the will and motivation without diluting the science of the Church or losing those elements which satisfy the mind.

Introduction - References

  1. Adolph Harnack, Das Wesen des Christentums, Leipzig, 1933, p. 153.

  2. Kenneth S. Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, New York, 1941, Vol. IV, p.43.

  3. St. Augustine, "Sermo 238," MPL 38, 1126.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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