Lesson 12 : On The Attributes And Marks Of The Church
An attribute is any characteristic or quality that a person or thing may be said to have. All good qualities are good attributes, and all bad qualities are bad attributes. All perfections or imperfections are attributes. If I can say of you that you are good, then goodness is one of your attributes. If I can say you are beautiful, then beauty is one of your attributes. We have seen already that the Church has four marks; but besides these it has three attributes, which flow from its marks. It is easier to see the marks of the Church than its attributes. It is easier to see, for instance, that the Church is one than that it is indefectible.
*123 Q. What do you mean by the authority of the Church? A. By the authority of the Church I mean the right and power which the Pope and the bishops, as the successors of the Apostles, have to teach and govern the faithful.
Authority is the power which one person has over another, so as to be able to exact obedience. A teacher has authority over his scholars, because they must obey him; but the teacher need not obey the scholars, because they have no authority over him. God alone has authority of Himself and from Himself All others who have authority receive it from God, either directly or through someone else. The Pope has authority from God Himself, and the priests get theirs through their bishops. Therefore, to resist or disobey lawful authority is to resist and disobey God Himself. If one of you were placed in charge of the class in my absence, he would have lawful authority, and the rest of you should obey him—not on account of himself, but on account of the authority he has. Thus the President of the United States, the governor, the mayor, etc., are only ordinary citizens before their election; but after they have been elected and placed in office they exercise lawful authority over us, and we are bound as good citizens and as good Catholics to respect and obey them.
"Infallibility." When we say Church is infallible, we mean that it cannot make a mistake or err in what it teaches; that the Pope, the head of the Church, is infallible when he teaches ex cathedra—that is, as the successor of St. Peter, the vicar of Christ. Cathedra signifies a seat, ex stands for "out of"; therefore, ex cathedra means out of the chair or office of St. Peter, because chair is sometimes used for office. Thus we say the presidential chair is opposed to this or that, when we intend to say the president, or the one in that office, is opposed to it. The cathedral is the church in which the bishop usually officiates, so called on account of the bishop's cathedra, or throne, being in it.
*125 Q. When does the Church teach infallibly? A. The Church teaches infallibly when it speaks through the Pope and bishops united in general council, or through the Pope alone when he proclaims to all the faithful a doctrine of faith or morals.
(3) He must speak on matters of faith or morals—that is, when the Holy Father tells all the faithful that they are to believe a certain thing as a part of their faith; or when he tells them that certain things are sins, they must believe him and avoid what he declares to be sin. He could not make a mistake in such things. He could not say that Our Lord taught us to believe and do such and such, if Our Lord did not so teach, because Our Lord promised to be with His Church for all time, and to send the Holy Ghost, who would teach it all truth and abide with it forever. If then the Church could make mistakes in teaching faith and morals, the Holy Ghost could not be with it, and Our Lord did not tell the truth—to say which would be blasphemy. But remember, the Pope is not infallible unless he is teaching faith or morals; that is, what we believe or do in order to save our souls. If the Holy Father wrote a book on astronomy, mathematics, grammar, or even theology, he could make mistakes as other men do, because the Holy Ghost has not promised to guide him in such things. Nevertheless, whatever the Pope teaches on anything you may be pretty sure is right. The Pope is nearly always a very learned man of many years' experience. He has with him at Rome learned men from every part of the world, so that we may say he has the experience of the whole world. Other rulers cannot and need not know as much as the Holy Father, because they have not to govern the world, but only their own country. Moreover, there is no government in the whole world as old as the Church, no nation that can show as many rulers without change; so we may say the Pope has also the experience of all the Popes who preceded him, from St. Peter down to our present Holy Father, Pius XI—two hundred and sixty-one popes. Therefore, considering all this, we should have the very greatest respect for the opinions and advice of the Holy Father on any subject. We should not set up our limited knowledge and experience against his, even if we think that we know better than he does about certain political events taking place in our country, for we are not sure that we do. The Holy Father knows the past history of nations; he knows the nature of mankind; he knows that what takes place in one nation may, and sometimes does, take place in another under the same circumstances. Thus the Holy Father has greater foresight than we have, and we should be thankful when he warns us against certain dangers in politics or other things. He does not teach politics; but as everything we do is either good or bad, every statesman or politician must consider whether what he is about to do be right or wrong, just or unjust. It is the business and duty of the Holy Father to declare against the evil or unjust actions of either individuals or nations, and for that reason he seems at times to interfere in politics when he is really teaching morals. At times, too, governments try to deprive the Church or the Holy Father of their rights; and when he defends himself against such injustice and protests against it, his enemies cry out that he is interfering with the government.
You understand now what the infallibility of the Pope implies, and that it does not mean, as the enemies of the Church say, that the Pope cannot sin, cannot be mistaken in anything. The Pope can sin just the same as anyone else; he could be a very bad man if he wanted to be so, and take the punishment God would inflict for his sins. Could he not be very angry, entirely neglect prayer, or pray with willful distraction; could he not be proud, covetous, etc.? And these are sins. Therefore he could sin; and hence he has to go to confession and seek forgiveness just as we do. Therefore remember this: whether the Pope be a bad man or a good man in his private life, he must always tell the truth when he speaks ex cathedra, because the Holy Ghost is guiding him and will not permit him to err or teach falsehood in faith or morals.
We have examples in the Bible (Numbers 22, 23) where God sometimes makes even bad men foretell the truth. Once He gave an ass the power to speak, that it might protest against the wrongdoing of its wicked and cruel rider.
We have seen how governments interfere with the rights of the Holy Father, and thus he has need of his temporal power that he may be altogether independent of any government. Now let me explain to you what is meant by the Temporal Power of the Pope. Well, then, the Holy Father should have some city or states, not belonging to any government, in which he would be the chief and only ruler. Up to the year 1870 the Holy Father did have such states: they were called the Papal States, and the power he had over them—just like that of any other ruler—was called the temporal power. Now how did he get those states and how did he lose them? He got them in the most just manner, and held possession of them for about a thousand years.
Hundreds of years ago the people of Rome and the surrounding countries elected the Pope their sole ruler. He was already their spiritual ruler, and they made him also their temporal ruler. Then the Pope protected and governed them as other rulers do. Later, kings and princes added other lands, and thus by degrees the possessions of the Pope became quite extended.
How did he lose these possessions? The Italian government took them from him in the most unjust manner. Besides the lands, they deprived the Church of other property donated to it by its faithful children. No ruler in the world had a more just claim or better right to his possessions than the Holy Father, and a government robbed him of them as a thief might take forcibly from you whatever had been justly given to you, when he found you were unable to defend yourself against him.
But has the Holy Father need of his temporal power? Yes, the Holy Father has need of some temporal power. He must be free and independent in governing the Church. He must be free to say what he wishes to all Catholics throughout the world, and free to hear whatever they have to say to him. But if the Pope is under another ruler he cannot be free. That ruler may cast him into prison, and not allow him to communicate with the bishops of the world. At least, he can say nothing about the injustice of the ruler who is over him. Therefore the Pope must have some possessions of his own, that he may not be afraid of the injustice of any ruler, and may speak out the truth boldly to the whole world, denouncing bad rulers and praising good ones as they deserve.
Mind, I do not say what possessions the Holy Father should have but simply that he should have some, in which he would be altogether independent. In justice he should have all that was taken from him. We have a good example here in the United States to illustrate the need of the independence of the Pope. You know every State in the United States is a little government in itself, with its own governor, legislature, laws, etc. Now over all these little governments or States we have the government of the United States, with the President at its head. In the beginning the members of the United States Government assembled to transact the business of the nation sometimes in one State and sometimes in another—sometimes in New York and sometimes in Pennsylvania, etc. But they soon found that in order to be independent of every State and just to all, they must have some territory or possessions of their own not under the power of any State. So some of the States granted them Washington and the country about it for ten miles square—now called the District of Columbia—which the United States government could freely perform its duties. In a similar manner the Holy Father is over all the governments of the world in matters of religion—in matters of justice and right; and just as the United States government has to decide between the rights of one State and the rights of another, so the Holy Father has sometimes to decide between the rights of one government and the rights of another, and must, in order to be just with all, be free and independent of all.
Again, the temporal power of the Pope is very useful to the Church; for with the money and goods received from his possessions the Holy Father can educate priests and teachers, print books, etc., for the foreign missions. He can also support churches, school, and institutions in poor countries, and especially where the missionaries are laboring for the conversion of the native heathens.
When the Holy Father had his own possessions he could do much that he cannot now do for the conversion of pagan nations. At present he must depend entirely upon the charitable offerings of the faithful for all good works, even for his own support. The offering we make once a year for the support of the Holy Father is called "Peter's pence," because it began by everyone sending yearly a penny to the Pope, the successor of St. Peter.
Therefore indefectibility means that the Church can never change any of the doctrines that Our Lord taught, nor ever cease to exist. When we say it is infallible, we mean that it cannot teach error while it lasts; but when we say it is indefectible, we mean that it will last forever and be infallible forever, and also that it will always remain the same as Our Lord founded it. There are two things that you must clearly understand and not confound, namely, the two kinds of laws in the Church—those which Our Lord gave it and those which it made itself. The laws that Our Lord gave it can never change. For example, the Church could not abolish one of the Sacraments, leaving only six; neither could it add a new one, making eight. But when, for example, the Church declares that on a certain day we cannot eat flesh meat, it makes the law itself, and can change it when it wishes. Our Lord left His Church free to make certain laws, just as they would be needed. It has always exercised this power, and made laws to suit the circumstances of the place or times. Even now it does away with some of its old laws that are no longer useful, and makes new ones that are more necessary. But the doctrines, the truths of faith or morals, the things we must believe and do to save our souls, it never changes and never can change: it may regulate some things in the application of the divine laws, but the laws themselves can never change in substance.
*127 Q. In whom are these attributes found in their fullness? A. These attributes are found in their fullness in the Pope, the visible head of the Church, whose infallible authority to teach bishops, priests, and people in matters of faith or morals will last to the end of the world.
The Catholic Church is "one," first in government and second in doctrine. In government every pastor has a certain parish or territory in which all the people belong to his congregation—they form his flock. He has to take care only of these, to teach them, give them the Sacraments, etc. He has not to be responsible for those outside his parish. Then over the pastor we have the bishop, who looks after a certain number of pastors; then comes the archbishop over a certain number of bishops; next comes the primate, who is head of all the archbishops in the country; and over all the primates of the world we have the Holy Father. Thus, when the Holy Father speaks to the bishops, the bishops speak to the priests, and the priests to the people. The Church is therefore one in government, like a great army spread over the world. We can go up step by step from the lowest member of the Church to the highest—the Holy Father; and from him to Our Lord Himself, who is the invisible head of all. This regular body of priests, bishops, archbishops, etc., so arranged, one superior to the other, is called the hierarchy of the Church.
The Church is one also in doctrine—that is, every one of the three hundred million of Catholics in the world believes exactly the same truths. If any Catholic denies only one article of faith, though he believes all the rest, he ceases to be a Catholic, and is cut off from the Church. If, for example, you would not believe Matrimony or Holy Orders a Sacrament, or that Our Lord is present in the Holy Eucharist, you would not be a Catholic, though you believed all the other teachings of the Church.
Therefore the Church is one both in government and teaching or doctrine. Now, has any other Church claiming to be Christ's Church that mark? No. The Protestant religions are not one either in government or belief. The Protestants of England have no authority over the Protestants of America, and those of America have nothing to say over those of Germany or France. So every country is independent, and they have no chief head. Neither are they one in belief. In the same country there are many kinds of Protestants—Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc., who do not believe the same thing. Even those who attend the same church and profess the same religion do not all believe the same. Everyone, they say, has a right to interpret the Holy Scriptures according to his own views, so they take many different meanings out of the very same words. There must be some chief person to tell the true meaning of the Holy Scriptures when there is a dispute about it; but they have no such chief, and the result is they are never done disputing.
The United States has a constitution and laws. Now, suppose every citizen was allowed to construe the laws to suit himself, without any regard for the rights of others, what a fine state of affairs we should soon have. But the wise makers of the constitution and laws of the United States did not leave us in such danger. They appointed judges to interpret or explain the laws and give the correct meaning when disputes arise. Then in Washington there is a chief judge for the whole United States; and when he says the words of the law mean this or that, every citizen must abide by his decision, and there is no appeal from it. Just in the same way Our Lord made laws for all men, and while He was upon earth He explained them Himself. He never left all men free to take their own meaning out of them. He appointed judges—the bishops; and a chief judge for the whole world—the Pope. The Holy Ghost guides him, as we have seen above, so that he cannot make mistakes in the meaning of Christ's laws; and when he says, this is what the words of Our Lord in His law signify, no one who is a true Christian can refuse to believe, or can appeal from his decision.
*130 Q. How is the Church holy? A. The Church is holy because its founder, Jesus Christ, is holy; because it teaches a holy doctrine, invites all to a holy life, and because of the eminent holiness of so many thousands of its children.
Protestant religions have not holy doctrines if we examine them closely. They teach, for example, that faith without good works will save us, and thus take away the motives for doing good; that marriage is not binding for life—the husband and wife may for some causes separate, or get a divorce, and marry again. This would leave the children without the care of their proper parents, sometimes without a home, and nearly always without religious instruction. The same persons might separate again and marry another time, and thus there would be nothing but confusion and immorality in society. Again, some of their doctrines teach that we cannot help sinning; so everyone could excuse himself for his sins by saying he could not help them, which you can easily see would lead to the worst of consequences. Lastly, their doctrines have never made one saint—acknowledged as such from miracles performed. Protestants are so called because, when their ancestors rebelled against the Church about three hundred years ago, the Church made certain laws and they protested against them, separated from the Church, and formed a new religion of their own.
"Catholic." The word catholic signifies universal. The Church is universal in three ways, viz.: in time, in place, and in doctrine. It is universal in time; for from the day Our Lord commissioned His Apostles to preach to the whole world down to the present, it has existed, taught, and labored in every age. It is universal in place; that is, it is not confined to one part of the world, but teaches throughout the entire world. It is universal in doctrine, for it teaches the same doctrines and administers the same Sacraments everywhere; and its doctrines are suited to all classes of men—to the ignorant as well as the learned, to the poor as well as the rich. It teaches by the voice of its priests and bishops, and all, civilized or uncivilized, to whom its voice reaches, can learn its doctrines, receive its Sacraments, and practice its devotions.
It has converted all the pagan nations that have ever been converted, and the title catholic belongs to the Roman Catholic Church alone. All Protestant churches that claim this title do so unjustly. They are not universal in time, and cannot be called the Church of all ages, because they were established only three hundred or four hundred or less years ago. They are not catholic in place, because they are mostly confined to particular countries. They are not universal in doctrine, because what they teach in one country they reject in another; and even in the same country, what they teach at one time they reject at another. Wherever it is possible for civilized people to go, there you will find a priest saying Mass in just the same way you see him saying it here. It is a great consolation for one in a strange country to enter a church and hear Mass, perceiving no difference in the vestments, ceremonies, or language of the priest. A little altar boy from the United States could serve Mass in any part of the world. See, therefore, the great advantage the Church has in using the Latin language instead of the vernacular or ordinary language of the people. If the Church used the usual language of the people, the Mass would seem different in every country; while natives would understand the words of the priest, strangers would not.
The Latin language is now what we call a dead language; that is, it is not the common language of any country; and because it is a dead language does not change: another reason why the Church uses it, that nothing may change in its divine service. The prayers used in the Church are exactly the same today as they were when they were written many centuries ago. The living languages—that is, those in use, such as English, French, German, etc., are always changing a little—new words are being added, and the meaning of old ones changed. The Church uses the same language all over the world to show that it is not the Church of any particular country, but the true Church of all men everywhere.
Again, using only one language, the Church can hold its great councils, call together all the bishops of the world, that they may condemn errors or make wise laws. When the Holy Father addresses them in Latin they can all understand and answer him. If, therefore, the Church did not use the same language everywhere how could this be done, unless everyone present understood all the languages of the world—which is a thing nearly impossible. But someone might say, if the Mass was said in English we could follow it better. You can follow just as well in Latin, for in nearly all prayerbooks you have besides the Latin said by the priest the meaning of it in English on the same page, or you have the English alone.
*132 Q. How is the Church apostolic? A. The Church is apostolic because it was founded by Christ on His Apostles and is governed by their lawful successors, and because it has never ceased, and never will cease, to teach their doctrine.
"Apostolic," which means that the Church was founded at the time of the Apostles, and has been the same ever since. Since the time of St. Peter, the first Pope, there have been 261 Popes. You can go back from our present Holy Father, Pius XI, to Benedict XV, who was before him, to Pius X, who was before him, to Leo XIII, before him, and so on one by one till you come to St. Peter himself, who lived at the time of Our Lord. Thus the Church is apostolic in its origin or beginning.
It is also apostolic in its teaching; for all the doctrines it teaches now were taught by the Apostles. The Church does not make new doctrines, but it teaches its truths more clearly and distinctly when someone denies them. For example it would not be necessary for you to prove yourself good and honest till somebody said you were bad and dishonest. You prove your honesty when it is denied, but both you and your friends believed it always, though you did not declare it till it was denied. In just the same way the Church always believed that Our Lord is the Son of God; that there are seven Sacraments; that the Pope is infallible, etc. These truths and all the others were believed by the Apostles, and the Church proclaimed them in a special manner when they were denied. Then it called together in council all its bishops, and they, with the Holy Father, proclaimed these truths—not as new doctrines, but as truths always believed by the Church, and now defined because denied.
Protestants have not for their churches the mark apostolic. How could their churches be founded by the Apostles, when the Apostles were dead more than fourteen hundred years before there were any Protestant churches? What is more, they have changed the teachings of the Apostles; and so they have not the mark apostolic either in their origin or teaching.
But they say the Catholic Church fell into error and made mistakes, and that God wished reformers to correct these errors. How could the Church fall into error when Our Lord promised to remain always with it, and to send the Holy Ghost to guide and teach it forever? And, secondly, if God sent the Protestants to correct the mistakes of the Catholic Church, what proof do they give us that they have such power from God? When, as we have seen, God sends anyone to do a special work, He always gives him power to prove his mission. When He sent Moses, He gave him signs—the plagues of Egypt. When He sent His prophets, they called down fire and rain from Heaven. (3 Kings 18). But Protestants have shown us no signs and performed no miracles; therefore we cannot believe their assertion that God sent them to correct the Catholic Church. Neither can we believe that Our Lord broke His promise to stay with the Church. We shall see the whole truth of the matter if we go back to the establishment of the Protestant religion and consider the life of Luther and the others who founded it.
Luther, then a young man, while out one day saw his friend killed at his side by a stroke of lightning. Much affected by that sad event, Luther became a priest in the order of the Augustinians. He was a learned man and a great preacher, but very proud. The Holy Father was completing St. Peter's Church in Rome, and about that time granted an indulgence to those giving alms for the purpose, just as pastors now offer Masses for those who contribute means to build a new church, or hospital, asylum, etc.
The Holy Father sent Dominican priests to preach about this indulgence and collect this money. Then Luther, when he found that he, a great preacher, was not appointed, was probably jealous. He first began to preach against the abuses of indulgences: but pride made him go further, and soon he began to preach against the doctrine of indulgences, and thus became a heretic. Then he was condemned by the Pope, and cut off from the Church. Being proud, he would not submit, but began to form a new religion, now called Protestant. But how did he get the people to follow him? Oh, very easily. Then, as now, there were plenty of bad and indifferent Catholics. At that time the Church was rich and had much property and lands; because when rich Catholics died they often left to the Church property for its own support and the support of its institutions. Even during their lifetime kings and princes sometimes gave the Church large donations of lands and money. The Church then was supported by these gifts and the income or rents of the lands, and did not need to look for collections from the people, as it has to do now. Here, then, is how Luther got many to follow him. He told greedy princes that if they came with him they could become rich by seizing the property of all the churches, and the greedy princes, glad of an excuse, went with him. Then he told the people—the bad Catholics—that fasting was too severe; going to confession too hard; hearing Mass every Sunday too difficult; and if they renounced their faith and embraced his new religion he would do away with all these things: so they also followed him. He himself broke his solemn vows made to God, and the people easily followed his example.
Those attending the Protestant churches in our times are generally rich and refined people, but you must not think that the first Protestants of three hundred years ago were just like them. No. Many of them were from the lowest and worst—I do not say poorest—classes in society; and when they got an excuse, they went about destroying churches and institutions, burning beautiful statues, paintings, music, books, and works of art that the Church had collected and preserved for centuries. This you may read in any of the histories of the Church and times. The Protestants of the present day praise all these works of art now; but if their ancestors had had their way every beautiful work of art would have been destroyed.
Some persons say they would not be members of the Catholic Church because so many poor people attend it. Then they do not want to belong to the Church of Our Lord, because His Church is the Church of both poor and rich. When St. John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Our Lord if He were really the Messias, Our Lord did not say yes or no, but told them to relate to John what they had heard and seen (Matt. 11:5), namely, that He (Christ) cured the blind, the lame, and the deaf, and preached to the poor. Therefore Our Lord gave preaching to the poor as a proof that He is the true Redeemer; and since Our Lord Himself had the poor in His congregation, the Church everywhere must have the poor among its members, for it must do what Our Lord did. So if you see a church to which the poor people never go, in which they are not welcome, you have good reason to suspect it is not the Church of Our Lord—not the true Church. Again, poverty and riches belong only to this world and make a distinction only here. The one who is poorest in this world's goods may be richest in God's grace. Indeed, if most Protestants studied the early history of their religion they would not be proud, but ashamed of it. How little they would think of their ancestors who gave up God for some worldly gain, while the Catholic martyrs gave up everything, even their lives, rather than forsake God and the true religion.
We have seen that some religions may seem to have one or two of the marks; but the Catholic Church alone has them all, and is consequently the only true Church of Christ. The other religions are not one—that is, united over the world; they give no proof of holiness, never having had any great saints whom God acknowledged as such by performing miracles for them. They are not catholic, because they have not taught in all ages and nations. They are not apostolic, because established hundreds of years after the Apostles. They are not infallible, for they have now declared things to be false which they formerly declared to be true; they are not indefectible—they are not as Our Lord founded them, for He never founded them; and they are constantly making changes in their beliefs and practices.
The marks of the Church are necessary also because the Church must be a visible Church, that all men may be able to see and know it; for Our Lord said, "He that will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican." (Matt. 18:17). Heathens were those who worshipped false gods. Publicans were men who gathered the taxes from the Jews for the Romans; they were generally very cruel to the people, and were much hated and despised by them. Therefore Our Lord meant: if anyone will not obey the Church, you should avoid him as you avoid the heathens and the publicans, whom you despise. Now no one can be blamed for not obeying a church that is invisible and unknown. Therefore the true Church must be a visible body and easily known to all who earnestly seek it as the Church of Christ. But if some shut their eyes and refuse to look at the light of truth, ignorance will not excuse them; they must be blamed and fall under the sentence of Our Lord.
*134 Q. From whom does the Church derive its undying life and infallible
A. The Church derives its undying life and infallible authority from the
Holy Ghost, the spirit of truth, who abides with it forever.
*135 Q. By whom is the Church made and kept One, Holy, and Catholic? A. The Church is made and kept One, Holy, and Catholic by the Holy Ghost, the spirit of love and holiness, who unites and sanctifies its members throughout the world.