The term church (Anglo-Saxon, cirice, circe; Modern German, Kirche;) 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:
I. 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 'edah. In the Septuagint these are rendered, respectively, ekklesia and synagoge. Thus in Proverbs v, 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 (in Psalm. lxxvii, in P. L., XXXVI, 984) 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.
II. 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 (Zack., xiv, 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: (a) it is to be endowed with a new and peculiar sacrificial system; (b) it is to be the kingdom of truth possessed of a Divine revelation; (c) it is to be governed by an authority emanating from the Messias.
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. 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 (Ps. Solom., iii, 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.
III. 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 Gomorra (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 Casarea 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, xxi. 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. 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 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
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 "Hist. Eccl.", V, xvii, and Clem. Alex., "Strom.", VI, v, in P. G. IX, 264) 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 tune 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 xiii, 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 (1Corinthians 11:34; 26:1; 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 (1Timothy 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). 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.
IV. 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. 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, xiii, 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" (c. xv).
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 Ecelesia, 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 I Clem., c. 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" (xx, 28).
V. 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.
VI. 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).
VII. 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. 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.
VIII. 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).
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 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.
IX. 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 members of the Church are 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:
Regarding each of these conditions, however, certain distinctions must be drawn:
X. 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. 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 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.
XI. 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, has 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
XII. 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 he 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.
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.
XIII. 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:
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" (1st 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 defense 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.
(adapted from Catholic Encyclopedia)