Letter to My Non-Catholic Friend
Originally Published by St. Peter Press, Fort Worth, Texas
My Dear Friend,
More than likely, if you have managed to keep your sanity in today's sad and sinful world, you may have been scandalized at what has been happening in the Catholic Church. At the present time, she seems to have fallen prey to all the snares of Satan, set to trap not only the weakest of men, but also the most brilliant of theologians.
How is it, you may well ask, that as a Catholic I can still profess allegiance to my Church? With the help of our dear Lord, I will try to explain. To begin with:
The Catholic Church Was Founded Directly by Christ
In the Old Testament the Jewish Tabernacle was the work of God -- not man. It was God who drew up its plan, giving its exact dimensions, stipulating the materials to be used in its construction, describing its sacred furnishings and vessels for the service, and the vestments and ornaments for the priests who would minister therein. He gave it a suitable constitution, appointed its rulers, and defined the extent of their power. (See Book of Exodus, chapters 25 through 31, entire Book of Leviticus; Book of Numbers, chapters 1, 3 through 8, and 17 and 18). So, since the Tabernacle of the Old Law (which was but a shadow, a figure, of the Church to come) was the work of God, surely the Church of the New Testament (the substance, the reality) must likewise be the work of God.
It is easily shown that it was Christ Himself, not His followers, not even His Apostles, who established the Church. Christ declared His intention of founding a Church, by the institution of a living authority, when He said to Simon Peter: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18). Now, if Christ intends personally to build His Church, it is not to be the work of man. Christ Himself will therefore give it all the necessary elements of a true social body, and, consequently, a ruling authority. And, that there might be no room for doubt, He added: "And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." (Matt 16:19). This authority was actually established and the Church founded, when our Lord after his resurrection said to Peter: "Feed My lambs; feed My sheep." (John 21:15, 17). During His mortal life Christ Himself was the visible head of the infant Church, but after His Resurrection the office of visibly feeding the flock was to be discharged by another, to whom Christ gave the necessary authority and office. And as the followers of the law of Moses under the Old Testament formed one compact body, so too were the followers of Christ to be One Body: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." (Ephesians 4:5). From the moment when first the Church, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, appeared before the world, we find a compact, fully organized society, with the apostles at its head. "They, therefore, who received his (Peter's) word were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls. And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts of the Apostles, 2:41, 42).
It was by the preaching of the apostles, it is true, that the faithful were gained for the Church; but it was not the apostles who devised the plan of this body, made baptism the condition of membership, appointed the first supreme head, and invested him with authority. It was Christ Himself who did all this, and by so doing founded the Church. A "church of the future" is, therefore, no less absurd than a Christian religion of the future, for the founder of the Christian religion was at the same time the immediate founder of the Church. Being outside the Church was considered by the early Church Fathers as being a non-Christian. "He is no Christian," says St. Cyprian (died 258), "who is not within the Church of Christ." (Ep. Ad Antonian, 55, n. 24).
Christ Established a Visible Church
In the New Testament we learn that Christ was visibly on earth but a very short time; that the term of his public teaching comprised only three years, which was occupied chiefly with the instruction of twelve men, who, under a chief, were to constitute his first representative corporate teaching body; they would be commissioned by the Son of God to "go forth and teach all nations" in his name. (Matt. 18: 18, 19). They would have successors in office, since the Kingdom of Christ was not only to be world-wide, but would endure until the end of time: "of His Kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke 1:33). And though Jesus would return to Heaven, He would not be disassociated from His visible teaching body: "Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world." (Matt. 28:20). If men employ every means in their power for the perpetuation of their work, can we imagine that God left His great work to drift along unguided and unprotected? If the Bible teaches anything plainly, it is the visibility of Christ's Church. It is composed of rulers and subjects: "Take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishops, to rule the Church of God, which He has purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28). Its members are admitted by a visible external rite (Baptism); they must hear, and obey: "He who hears you, hears me; he who rejects you, rejects Me." (Luke 10:16). Christ compares His Church only to things visible: a "flock" (John 21:15-17), "a sheepfold" (John 10:16), a "city seated on a mountain" (Matt. 5:14), a "kingdom" (Matt. 13). He calls it "My Church (Matt. 16:18), (not "Churches"), "The Church" (Matt. 18:17). Fittingly, then, does this Kingdom of God upon earth merit the designation of St. Paul: "The Church of the living God." (1 Tim. 3:15).
Pope Pius XI in an encyclical of January 6, 1928 on "Fostering True Religious Unity" states: "The Church thus wonderfully instituted could not cease to exist with the death of its Founder and of the Apostles, the pioneers of its propagation, for its mission was to lead all men to salvation, without distinction of time or place. 'Going therefore, teach ye all nations' (Matt. 28:19). Nor could the Church ever lack the effective strength necessary for the continued accomplishment of its task, since Christ Himself is perpetually present with it, according to His promise: 'Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world' (Matt. 28:20). Hence not only must the Church still exist today and continue always to exist, but it must ever be exactly the same as it was in the days of the Apostles. Otherwise we must say -- which God forbid -- that Christ has failed in His purpose, or that He erred when He asserted of His Church that the gates of hell should never prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18).
Forty-seven times the word "Church" is found in the Old Testament, and in each passage it means but one Church, one way of worshipping the Lord, before the coming of Christ. That was the Jewish Church -- the religion and the law of Moses established by God. From no other altars did God receive the sacrifice of prayer. They were all abominations to Him. "He who turneth away his ears from hearing the law, his prayer shall be an abomination." (Proverbs 28:9). In the New Testament, 24 times "the Church" is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, and you find but one Church mentioned. 68 times St. Paul speaks of "the Church" in his Epistles, everywhere meaning but the one Church of God. St. John speaks of "the Church at Ephesus," "at Smyrna," at Philadelphia," etc., but these were different dioceses. They all belonged to the Catholic Church under Peter.
Christ Founded an Apostolic Teaching Body
After Christ appointed Apostles to carry on the work He had begun, He bade them go and teach all nations, baptizing those who would believe, and teaching them to observe whatsoever He had commanded. The Apostles were sent, not as mere messengers, but as ambassadors, bearing Christ's authority and power, and teaching and ministering in His name and person; so that in hearing them, men were hearing Him, and in despising them, they were despising Him (Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 10:16). In order that they might carry out this commission, Christ promised them the Spirit of truth. "I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you forever. The spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, nor knoweth him: but you shall know him; because he shall abide with you, and shall be in you. He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you." (John 14:16,17,26). Finally, He promised to be with them, not for a few years or a generation, but for all days, thereby indicating that the apostolic order should last beyond the lives of its present members, even to the end of time." Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." (Matt 28:20). In thus constituting the apostolic body, Christ was in reality constituting His Church. The Church was no mere collection of individual believers, but a definite organization, which was to be the pillar and ground of truth: "I write these thing to thee, hoping to come to thee shortly, but in order that thou mayest know, if I am delayed, how to conduct thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and mainstay of the truth." (1 Tim. 3:14,15). It was to be founded on a rock. "Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church." (Matt. 16:18). The Church taken as a whole comprises teachers and believers, but its essential constitution lies in the existence of a teaching authority, guaranteed by Christ to be infallible. "Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18).
Such was the original constitution of the Church, and as the Church was to last for all ages, it is natural to suppose that it should always continue to exist according to it original constitution -- that is to say, as an apostolic teaching body. There are no signs that this organization was a temporary expedient, to die out after a few years and leave a totally different system in its place. He did not say to His Apostles: "Lo! I am with you even to the end of your lives;" but "Lo! I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." So that those to whom he addressed himself were to live to the end of the world! What does this mean, but that the Apostles were to have successors, in whom their rights were to be perpetuated? Successors whom Jesus would ever assist by his presence and uphold by His power. The work founded by a God, out of His love for man, and at the price of his own precious Blood, must surely be imperishable!