Catholic Apologetics



God's foundation

The Teacher and Redeemer of the world was born in history as virgin Mary's baby.
Jesus was a pilgrim, just as we. He couldn't find on this earth his permanent home. After a life that was, humanly speaking, too short for the enormous task the Father had imposed upon him, He ascended to heaven with his soul and his body.
Between the historical Christ and us there's a history of some twenty centuries.
Yet Christ continues to live among us, in a way different from and stronger than only in memory.
Because, as the Word of the Father, He preceeded the cosmos and the time, now, as God-Man, He couldn't forever part from his earthly mission. He was too much concerned for the reasonable creature that still has to fight for eternal happiness but is in danger of perishing if he has to find and fight for his ideal all alone, to break with mankind forever after giving his word and example and making his sacrifice. He loved his friends too much to leave them to their own fallible judgments and their own natural powers.
Therefore, the last thing He said to his disciples before ascension, wasn't a painful word of goodbye but the comforting promise He would stay with them all days throughout the centuries until the hour when the Creator was to recall the world from existence.

Between the risen Saviour, who averted God's anger from fallen mankind by the merits of his martyrdom and the glory of his resurrection, and the seekers of happiness who were to be captured by the inspiring sound of his glad tidings, there is a mystery: the mystery of the only holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Jesus has ascended to heaven and is sitting at the right hand of his Father as the glorified Christ, the King of heavenly glory. But the divine act of love that made him shed his blood for the happiness of his followers during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius and his local substitutes in Judea, prefect Pontius Pilate and king Herod, is still being performed every day. It will be continued as long as there are sinful people that need help.
The grace of the Redemptor is being applied to each of us by way of the Church.
For the Church is the continuation of the Redemptor. Its only base is Christ. It gets its vitality from the power of the risen and glorified Son of God, and its eternal vocation is maintaining the only true Religion of Christ and handing down the supernatural life that Christ earned for all people with his death at the cross.

The Vatican Council says: "To make the wholesome work of redemption continue forever, the eternal Pastor and Bishop of our souls decided to found the holy Church as the house of the living God, wherein all faithful should be united by one faith and one love."

The Catholic has a concrete concept of the Church. But it is difficult to shortly and completely define this concept with words. Because the Church is more than the worldwide institute that commands respect from its friends and enemies for its catechism and organisation.
The Catholic considers the Church a secret, the secret of the infallible flock of Christ, guided by the Spirit of God. God ordered this Church to guard the treasure of the supernatural Revelation and to be the univeral organ of salvation through which the grace of redemption is to descend from the cross upon our heads and hearts forever.

We daresay the mystery of the Church is the most complicated of all secrets we accept from God. Although the Church is in its deepest essence one and undivided, it represents itself to us in distinct ways. It is both divine and human, both a spiritual alliance with God, based on love and faith, and a visible community, both an organ of the doctrine and an institute of grace. Founded by Christ, its base is Christ, it is the mystical Body of Christ and it gives Christ to all who ask for it. Saint Paul says it's the Bride without any blemish or wrinkle. However, among its members it counts both righteous and sinners.
In the mystery of the Church, all other secrets of the faith come together, as a principle or an instrument or an object we strive after: the sending of the Word by the Father, the hypostatical union of divine and human nature in the one Person of Jesus, the Lord's deed of redemption, his resurrection and ascension, the supernatural revelation, the faith, the special assistance of the holy Spirit, the grace, the sacraments and the completion of us as images of God when we shall be blessed and behold God forever in heaven.
Since the Church as a prolongation of Jesus' presence on the earth bridges the infinite distance between heaven and earth in many ways, it's evident we can't give any short and complete school definition of its essence.
Cardinal Robertus Bellarminus described the Catholic concept of the Church as follows: "The Church is the community of people on the earth who are united by professing the same Christian creed and using the same sacraments under the direction of legal authorities, especially the Pope of Rome."
This formulation, which is true but incomplete, because it emphasizes the visible side too much at the cost of the invisible side, is indicating the Church rather than explaining it. It doesn't give a sufficient definition of the whole concept of the Church, but only answers the question: "Where is the Church of Christ?"
Johann Möhler and many others tried to demonstrate the spiritual side of the Church with the following definition:
"Unter der Kirche auf Erden verstehen die Katholiken die von Christus gestiftete sichtbare Gemeinschaft aller Gläubigen, in welcher die von Ihm während seines irdischen Lebens zur Entsündigung und Heiligung der Menschheit entwickelten Tätigkeiten unter Leitung seines Geistes bis zum Weltende vermittels eines von Ihm angeordneten, ununterbrochen währenden Apostolates fortgesetzt und alle Völker im Verlaufe der Zeiten zu Gott zurückgeführt werden."
This way we can give several definitions of the concept of the Church that all are true but leave us unsatisfied because they don't completely describe the rich contents of the Catholic concept of the Church, even though they do distinguish the Church that Christ founded from the other alleged church communities.
Neither can we completely define the essence of the Church with a single citation from the new Testament, because the distinct texts of the Scripture are complementary to each other. And an illustration with a single comparison can't shed enough light on the manysided concept of the Church, either, because both Christ himself and the Apostle of the gentiles needed several images like those of God's Kingdom, the Pastor and his flock, the Vine and the branches, the Bride of Christ, the mystical Body of Christ, to illuminate the mystery of the Church.
After all, the Church has been established by God; it's not a natural community, brought about by the free concurrence of people, nor an artificial institute of discipline, which would hinder the normal development of religious life rather than advance it. The Church has been established by Christ, sent by the Father, so, in the end, we can only deduce its essence from the Revelation.
The revelation in the Scripture is clear enough if we dare to understand the relations between the distinct texts, even more so since the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Saint Paul are complementary to each other and explain each other in a suitable way.

From the beginning of his public life, Jesus clearly knew his vocation was to teach the people the secrets and precepts of a new Religion that had to replace the old ceremonial cult of the Jews.
From the "small flock" of his disciples, who acknowledged their Master was the Messager of God and were deeply impressed by the wise lessons of his preaching and examples, Jesus chose twelve men, who, to propagate the Gospel all over the world, had to be ready to leave everything behind them. In these twelve came true what the Redeemer intended when he said to Simon and Andrew by the sea of Galilee: "Follow Me, and I will send you out to fish for people". At Jesus' command, they travelled from one city to the other, cured the ill, comforted the sufferers, and preached to the people the enchantments of the Kingdom of God. They could rely upon the special assistance of their divine Master, who guaranteed the success of their activities and the truth of their words with the authorization by God that gave Him the power to decide upon all things in heaven and on the earth. There was no need for them to fear the difficulties He repeatedly had told them about and prepared them for, because He was never going to abandon them. However, the propagation of the Gospel brings its own dangers: the weakness of human memory and the fallibility of human judgment may easily detract from the indivisible value of Christian heritage. To resist these dangers forever and everywhere, Jesus solemnly promised to the Apostles that the Advocate and Helper, the Spirit of Truth, was to instruct them and recall to memory all the truths and precepts Jesus had taught them. Jesus not only guaranteed them everlasting special assistance when they were acting as teachers, but He would also back them whenever they were deciding upon questions of personal conscience or Church discipline. Indeed, He was the highest Judge of man and society. He charged one of them, Simon Peter, with a unique mission: Jesus made him the chief of the Apostles; Simon Peter had to confirm the faith of his brethren, and therefore he received the primacy which was to make him the culmination point of the structure of the Church.

Of course, Jesus didn't intend to establish a Church that would only last during his life and go down like a house of cards after his death, for lack of ideals and vitality.
Was his vocation meant to assist only his contemporaries, and not all people in all times?
Were the love and attachment of the relatively small group of disciples the only success He could rejoyce at when leaving the world?
When Jesus sent the Apostles to teach the people the new doctrine and to baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, He promised them his power would permanently help them to practise their responsible job. At Caesarea Philippi, He assured them the Church would never perish. There He explicitly said the gates of Hell were never to overcome the Church He built on Peter. And in his goodbye address He comforted his disciples with the promise the Father would send them a Helper to replace him:
"I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever, the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for He lives with you and will be in you.

The practice of the youthful Christian communities, wherein Peter and the other Apostles know they only act in the name of Jesus to give evidence in favor of the new truth in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and so many other places outside Palestina, shows again Christ intended to establish a Church with a hierarchic structure.
After the Apostles received at Pentecost the holy Spirit, who gave them divine strength and love and made them rise above themselves, they begin to accomplish their great mission full of courage and zeal. They set out to preach and baptize and admit numerous converts in the Christian Church.
To replace Judas, who had become a traitor, they choose Matthew as the new twelfth Apostle.
They appoint deacons, but hold the direction of the work of conversion in their own hands.
The Apostles alone dispose of the goods of the Church.
When preaching the Gospel and trying to solve problems with civil authorities, they take responsibility for their own conduct, but also for the strict Christian way of life of the faithful. At the Council of Jerusalem, the Apostles together refer to the authority of the holy Spirit and proclaim decisions that are binding on all Christians.

Such testimonies from Jesus and the hierarchic Church of the first century already make clear Jesus founded a visible Church that intends to make fallen mankind friends of God again and to defend Christian religion against personal views and human arbitrariness. However, it's above all the preaching of Jesus who explains the Kingdom of God, and the theology of Saint Paul about the mystical Body of Christ, that show the soul and spiritual vitality of this divine foundation.

We may understand that many dissenting people are more impressed by the external organisation of the Catholic Church than by its inner spiritual life, because this spiritual life is evolving itself in the visible institute of the Church but doesn't come to light as clearly as the institute. Therefore they say the Catholic appreciates ceremonial shows more than an inner life of being inspired by the religion.
However, this opinion is contrary to truth.
Catholicism doesn't imply any hypocrisy of ceremonies without spiritual base.
Catholics don't think the Church is an unstable construction, planned and built by people, or a merely natural community, which is only an accidental product of human social instinct. Nor do they think it is only the impressive organisation that is distinct from other alleged Christian groups because of the jurisdiction and the executive power it received from Christ. It's above all an eternal source of grace and an organic instrument of salvation.
Whereas the Jewish nation thought they could rely on the future with its shortsighted and materialistic and chauvinistic expectations of a forthcoming Messianic kingdom, Jesus emphasized the spiritual and invisible element that shows the Church belongs to Christ and the promised kingdom belongs to God.
Christ mostly referred to the Church as 'the Kingdom of heaven' or 'the Kingdom of God'. These names make us think of the final completion of the life of grace in heaven, but they are also applicable to the Kingdom of preparation, the Church of Christ on earth. This is clear from the parables of the sower, the leaven, the fishing net, the mustard seed, the weeds among the wheat, the workers in the vineyard, etc.

When The Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come, He answered: “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you."
Jesus spoke in a similar way when summing up the conditions necessary to be admitted as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. They all are spiritual conditions and virtues of the soul: repentance, justice, a pure heart, not being attached to the goods of this world.
However, not only the external conditions make the Church of Christ a spiritual Kingdom: it is an alliance of grace between God and man, and therefore a mystery that is only revealed to the faithful.

We can't doubt Christ is the only Base and the central Principle of the life of the Church, which is a living organism that makes the faithful benefit by the merits of the Passion, without reducing the beginning of Jesus' second goodbye address to a trivial digression. Here Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches.
He demands his disciples be strongly attached to his Person and ascertains their efforts can only be fruitful and their longing for perfection satisfied if their life is sanctified by the force and love of Him whom the Father planted on the earth as a vine:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing."
In the Gospels, Jesus mentions the Church only twice. However, Saint Paul, who was the last to be elected an Apostle, applies the images of the building, the marriage and the living organism, which the Saviour used to explain the deeper essence of the Kingdom of God, to the Christian Church. In this Church the bishops are 'housekeepers' and the parishes 'fields' or 'buildings' of God. (1 Cor III, 9)

When Saint Paul speaks about the mystical union of the individual members of the Church with its Head, Christ, he completes the organical concept of the Church.
Paul compares the Church of God with the natural human body, which is one in spite of its distinct limbs, each of which has its own task but can't perform it unless it is nourished and guided by one central principle of life.
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Saint Paul sums up his view: God gave his Son Jesus Christ to the Church as its Head, the Church being his Body, full of Him who fulfils everything in all its parts.
And to the Corinthians He explains there are distinct employments in the Church because the parts of one body can't all accomplish the same task:
"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Likewise the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body', it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body', it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand 'I don’t need you!', and the head cannot say to the feet 'I don’t need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, whereas our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so there should be no division in the body, but its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."

It's no illusion when the Catholic recognizes the features of Christ in the Church, as Saint Paul does. Because the Church, the mystical Body, owes to the God-Man of history its birth and nobility and to the risen Christ in heaven its eternal life and inviolable sanctity. We can see in its essence and works the power and love of the eternal Emmanuel, who, by preaching the new truth and redeeming us at the cross, raised the fallen and helpless mankind and made it in a mysterious supernatural way familiar with its only true love: God.
What Christ did for man, when initiating him in the deepest secrets of the Kingdom of God, the Church continues to do every day, preaching the word of the Lord, and defending the treasure of Revelation against the many snares opinionated liberal people try to lay for it.
And what Jesus earned for mankind with his Passion, the Church gives to the faithful with divine openhandedness, as long as there are on the earth helpless people who love repentance and justice more than themselves and recognize that a pure heart and ascetism are necessary conditions to inherit the joys of God's Kingdom.
Just as the Church is visible and invisible at the same time, both human and divine, it's both an institute of education and an institute of salvation.
Saint Thomas is right when he says, speaking of Revelation and faith, the Church can't err "because it's guided by the holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Truth". But he's also right when he writes about the Church as an institute of grace, with reference to Jesus' sacred Passion:
"Because Christ is our Head, He redeemed us with the passion He endured out of love and obedience, just as a man with a meritorious hand work can free himself from a sin he committed with his feet. Indeed, just as the natural body is a unity, although composed of distinct parts, we consider the Church one person, being the mystical Body whose Head is Christ."

The Church is a secret whose meaning we can only approximately discover if God enlightens us.
The Church is standing in the midst of this world, but it doesn't spring from this world, for its only Base is Christ and its ideal and reason of existence is to give God's grace to God's children.
As an alliance of grace it's a spiritual and invisible unity. But it will only maintain and develop itself until the end of times within the visible Church under direction of the Spirit, who makes it harmonious in spite of its many aspects.
Among its members it counts many saints whose lives already have been influenced by the grace of redemption in a miraculous but evident way. However, it also counts many sinners who are invited to expiate their sins and be justified by its mediation.
As the Bride of Christ it's "without stain or wrinkle". Yet it's possible its weaker kids choose evil above justice.
Finally it's both divine and human, because God raised it with the power of the eternal Word that became flesh in our space and time.

{{The non-Catholic Christian concepts of Church usually leave much to be desired.

In the theology of the Eastern Christians we find no exact definition of the concept "Church". There the official doctrine has a very pneumatic character. It emphasizes the Church is an alliance of grace and the mystical Body of Christ. It isn't only an invisible community, but also an organism that evokes vitality. The catechism of Gallinicos says it's in our world the new Ark that offers place to all people of good will.
The Church is directly guided by the holy Spirit who sanctions its judgments about faith and morals.
However, Eastern theology doesn't clearly define the organ through which the infallible Church speaks about faith and morals. It doesn't recognize a visible head of the Church, like the pope of Rome, although they do recognize Jesus is the invisible Head.
According to the theologians Rhosis and Malinofsky, the ecumenical councils form the visible authority. Others say the bishops form the authority, wherever they speak together in the name of the holy Spirit. But the modernists apparently say the infallible authority is the whole Church with all its faithful.

The Anglican Church considers itself the successor of the Catholic Church that Latin and Celtic missionaries founded in England.
The followers of the High Church and the Low Church and the Moderates largely agree about this - and here we need not consider the Broad Church, since we don't see much of a mature concept of Church in the theology of this liberal group.
Almost all Anglican theologians consider the episcopal system the best Church system. However, circles around the bishops object to making the Established Church of England the Church of the State. Although the bishops and priests can address all citizens and the appointments of the clergy are backed by civil law, there are many difficulties when parliament interferes with catechism, even more so since there are dissenters and atheists in parliament. A clear example is the rejection of the revision of the Prayer Book in 1929, proposed by experts of the Church. We are not surprised when monsignor Knox of Manchester and other Anglican bishops sigh: "We wish we were pastors of souls rather than officers of the State".

The English State Church has a remarkable character of compromise. The unique assembly of king, parliament and privy council is an organ that almost always turns the scale in questions of the creed. That's why the Church of England is more uniform than any other Christian community outside the Catholic Church. On the other hand, the Anglican Church is open to all possible religious and profane influences: Catholic, Protestant, modernitic, positivistic. So we understand there are many with a creed different from the creed of the orthodox who are convinced dr Carpenter of Exeter is right when he says "the Church teaches, the Bible confirms".

It's useless to ask what is the standard Protestant concept of Church. There are today so many distinct concepts even in the Netherlands we'd better ask what is the concept of a specific denomination like the reformed, confessional, ethical, liberal, lutheran, spiritual, etc. After all, each denomination has its own view upon the reasons and the necessity of its independent existence, and upon the essence of its part of the Church.

From the beginning there has been an irreconcilable opposition between the Catholic and Protestant concepts of the Church.
Whereas the Catholic considers the Church one and undivided and an instrument that precedes the effect, that is the redemption of the individual Catholics, the Protestant considers it an alliance of grace that is the effect of the grace rather than its cause. Protestants think the grace makes the Church, because the Church is the community of them whom God adopted as his beloved ones.

However, from the beginning there has been a striking distinction between the concepts of Church of Calvin and Luther.
Luther emphasized the visible institutions, like divine service, preaching, sacraments, whose attendants are the only elected of Christ.
On the other hand, Calvin emphasized the invisible element of the Church and is convinced in exceptional cases even people who aren't members of the official Church can participate in it.
The first Lutheran Symbols describe the Church as "the community or assembly of the holy and true faithful wherein the pure Gospel is preached and the sacraments correctly administered".
After breaking with the Mother Church, Luther couldn't find friendly words for the damned papacy. He was sure his own Church had the correct preaching and administration and made only its own members holy and true faithful, so the outsiders were ascertained they were unholy and untrue.
Calvin wasn't that exclusive. The reformer from Geneva thinks there are elected even among the followers of the pope:
"I say there are churches under the papacy, since the Lord miraculously saves the remainders of his people, although they be woefully scattered."
The severe Calvinism of later times maintained this rather generous principle. Even the famous Dutch theologian Gisbert Voetius, who passionately fought against "the superstitious abuses of the papacy", writes, in accordance with his beloved master:
"So we have our brethren in the Church of Rome, although they be weak brethren, because God elected some of them".

Meanwhile we can't deny there were in the past some over-enthusiastic adherents of Dort Calvinism who without restraint called the Church of Rome "the synagogue of Satan". This was fundamentally untrue. Indeed, the Institutiones of Calvin and the three Forms of Unity don't give Calvinists the right to judge people with a different opinion, because only God knows the hearts and can judge them.
For example, the Nederlandse Geloofsbelijdenis (Dutch Creed) defines the only catholic (that is: general) Church as follows: "a holy assembly of true believers in Christ, who expect no salvation except from Jesus Christ, have been washed by his blood, and are sanctified and sealed by the holy Spirit".
And the Dordtsche Leerrregels (Dort Doctrine) notes in the same context we have to follow the example of the Apostles and think the best about people who openly confess their creed and improve their lives.

However, the Calvinistic doctrine about the Church isn't very clear. We can understand, when Abraham Kuyper began defending his principle of 'doleantie', many fellow Protestants cheered him for consistently thinking out the Calvinistic Church system, whereas others thought he was only violating reformed principles.
According to Kuyper, "There's only one organised life with Christ, just as there's only one light of the sun. Likewise, there's on the earth one house whereof the distinct churches are the rooms. They communicate with each other through good doors, but the light comes from outside and gives every room a character of its own with an own life and an own light. This is the reason why we can't consider a local church a compartment of any national church, for this would rob the local church of its honour. Instead, it's a compartment, or rather, organically speaking, a member or cell of the indivisible Church of Christ, receiving its light and love and life directly from Him."
This theory sounds wonderful. But as soon as we apply it on practice, it becomes much less attractive. For, when the great leader of the Doleantie has to judge the churches of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and 'some 500 or 600 other ones', he dares to call them 'true' churches, although he has to admit: "In these churches the following abuses prevail: 1) they still allow some profanation of the means of grace, 2) they haven't maintained discipline, 3) they give to unbelieving people the right to vote, 4) they aren't connected with the right other churches."

The Christian Reformed, who never could agree with those of the Doleantie, but refer to the Dort Fathers even more, don't want a great Dutch connection of churches. They oppose any connection with other churches through synods, because they are sure the Dort Formulas are clear enough.
They wish to obey only God's Word, which is the soul and the energy of the Church. They say Rome makes the Word subordinate to the Church, and therefore the Church of Rome has lost its rights and remains a lifeless body.
They think there's only one true Church: the Christian Reformed Church. This Church may be small - but didn't Jahweh love the people who are small and inconsiderable? However, it's a great Church by its ideal, and it's strong by the force of the Word that gives life. That's why the true followers of the separatist Hendrik de Cock are sure the small Church of the Christian Reformed is 'the pure revelation of the body of Christ in the Netherlands'.

Among the churches that are connected with the Dutch Reformed Church, the Orthodox are the ones that most respect the three Forms of Unity, like those of the Doleantie and those of de Cock's Secession .
However, the Orthodox don't dare to think Calvinistic Church doctrine commands them to say goodbye to the corrupted Dutch Reformed Church until this Church will be set right, and they certainly don't want to separate themselves from the Dutch Reformed Church like those of the Secession. Although they think the discipline in the Dutch Reformed Church leaves much to be desired, and the decisions of the general Synod can't usually enchant them, they keep supporting the national Church Institute that king William the First devised and introduced, however rashly and despotically.

The Ethical Protestants have a concept of Church that's not fixed but developing as the Lord gives blessings and man is accessible. They say: "We can only consider the Church a social organism. It's not a fixed institute but a living organism".
Yet there's an ongoing change in the Ethical theology about the Church. It is clearly (and justly) seeking a more definite concept of Church. However, the Ethicals continue to prefer the 'open system' and to defend free investigation.

The Liberal theologians - if we can call them theologians - think there's no reason why there should exist a unique Church that would be a community for all Christians.
Indeed, modernist Protestants don't believe one comprehensive creed is possible nor desirable. They consider the Church a casual group of Christians whose belief is distinct from other beliefs but not necessarily coherent. After all, each believer received his own revelation. If people demand modernists, too, sacrifice radical individualism in favour of a collective idea, modernists might say each Church received its own revelation and creed. However, they insist "maintaining a doctrine is no longer possible, so let everybody distinguish between truth and error himself, since no Church is the pure body of Christ". Whereas the Catholics and the Protestant advocates of discipline demand a Church of authority, the liberal Protestants want a "Church of liberty".

Among the Spiritualists, whose doctrine emphasizes the guidance of the holy Spirit, the Baptists have the most remarkable concept of Church. They reject any organization or joint doctrine of churches, because "the true religious communion is too elevated to be subordinate to an alliance of churches".

Do we need to make an anthology of the numerous concepts of Church that are current in the theological literature of our Protestant fellow Christians in the Netherlands or abroad?
If we don't want to deny the Protestant principle of 'sola Scriptura' any value, yet we are sure the famous perspicuitas (transparancy) of the holy Scripture leaves much to be desired.}}

The Church as a rock

The Saviour gave the world the best thing He could: Himself.
By giving humanity the invaluable present of his divine knowledge and love, he made it participate in his own omniscience and omnipotence.
He opened our eyes for a beautiful new world wherein all things look more enchanting and get a deeper meaning under the illumination of a supernatural light. By his death of reconciliation, which the miracle of resurrection proved to be a divine sacrifice of love, He reassured the human heart the happiness it is longing for needs not remain a dream forever but can become reality if man continues to engage in rendering service and cooperate with the grace He earned for us.
Christ, being the Way and the Truth, gave our darkened mind and weakened will the right norms for religious confession and life. He came into the world to strengthen the desperate seekers of happiness with the grace of redemption. He gave man the word of God, literally, and this way He radically renewed the world.

The Incarnation of the Word unchained the most thorough revolution mankind ever saw. Not only because Jesus was a Teacher whose words struck like lightning people who didn't seem to be disposed to understand the deeper sense of being a Christian; nor because He performed miracles that people remembered after twenty centuries as if they saw them happen personally; not even because He gave his contemporaries the enviable joys of beholding Himself, so numerous became enraptured over the religion wherein He, being sent by his Father, laid all characteristics of divine truth and love.
Instead, Jesus' life in our world had an invaluable significance above all because the vocation He had to fulfil was beyond space and time.
Although Jesus, who revealed to us He was the Son of God, lived only a short time in our midst, his work stays alive. The expression of this work is the Church He founded. The risen Christ in heaven continues to care for it. And his Church on the earth makes us participate in his power and grace. Therefore there's no other foundation than Himself, Jesus Christ. Through the organism of His Church we can attain what we need the most: divine faith and grace.
The God-man was the only Mediator when he connected heaven and earth by his birth and death and resurrection, long ago. He continues to be the only Mediator throughout the centuries since his ascension. And He will stay the only Mediator until the day of the final judgment when, as the Son of man, He will make the Church Militant participate in the eternal joys of the Church Triumphant in heaven.

Because his work of redemption should be fruitful forever and his doctrine of salvation should never be submitted to the wilful judgment of people, Christ founded the Church and promised He would stay with it all days until the end of the world, even though He was to go back soon to his Father in heaven.
The Church He founded is an alliance of grace and its essence is invisible: a secret. However, it's not invisible in an exclusive sense, as if it couldn't reveal itself in public, because it's a community of people wherein the miracle of the grace of salvation is brought about. The Church is also visible, just as the Person of the Redemptor, in whom the Logos was hidden behind a figure people could perceive with the senses. The mystery of the God-Man is continued in the Church, because Jesus' power is active in it. However, in accordance with God's plan, the Church is evolving as a community wherein appointed officials are holding the reins and priests have to administer the sacraments.
To consolidate the Church, Jesus established a supreme body of government, and He explicitly charged it with preaching his doctrine, receiving new members by baptizing them, answering personal questions of conscience, and applying discipline.
This body of government is the college of Apostles, whom their Teacher and Saviour repeatedly assured their office wouldn't stop when they died. He himself, the risen Christ, would assist them until the end of time, and guide them past the difficulties they couldn't avoid when accomplishing their vocation. And the Spirit of God, being the Spirit of truth, would confirm and sanctify them with his power and love, because his work should remain fruitful.
The Church has a right to say their highest officials have the infallible authority of proclaiming the doctrine, because they can refer to the words of Jesus himself. Indeed, the Founder of the Church sent the Apostles as witnesses of truth. He clearly intended their voice would render Christian doctrine to all nations on the earth, and their words would decide upon all questions of Christian faith and morals under the safe guidance of the holy Spirit: "Whoever hears you, hears Me!"
The Church has also a right to say, in the name of Jesus, their highest officials have the power to govern the world. For, again, the Apostles received from Christ the power to proclaim and dissolve binding decisions and to punish the unwilling, banning them, if necessary, from the community of the Church: "Just as the Father sent Me, I now send you!"

Among the twelve there was one, Simon Peter, whom Jesus clearly preferred.
Saint Peter received the authorization to teach, sanctify and command, just as the other Apostles. He, too, had to preach the Gospel and to restore the grace to fallen mankind. He, too, was appointed to preach the new values of salvation and to make people familiar with the mysteries of God. However, says Batiffol, Saint Peter received these tasks "avec primauté, puisqu'il est seul celui qui a les clefs du royaume, puisqu'il est seul le majordome".
If someone should wish to deny the primacy of Saint Peter with the holy Scripture in his hands, like the Protestants do, he really needs to be very subtle and audacious.
Indeed, not only Saint Mark and Saint Luke, who learnt the history of Jesus from eye witnesses, but also Saint Matthew and Saint John, fellow apostles of Saint Peter, indicate clearly the preference Christ adjusted to Saint Peter above the other Apostles. They show us Saint Peter as the Apostle of firm faith: Saint Peter is the Apostle of faith, just as Saint John is the Apostle of love.

It's true the Evangelists don't conceal the triple denial. In the sad history of the Lord's sufferings there's little that sounds as tragical as Saint Peter's voice when he swears he doesn't know his Master.
However, the false oath is even more tragical since it's Saint Peter who swears it. Furthermore, Saint Peter fell because of a lack of courage, not of faith. Whereas he wasn't brave enough to resist the danger, his faith was so strong he was allowed to learn from Jesus Himself his beatification, as a reward for his confession of faith: "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jona, because this wasn't revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father who is in heaven".
But Jesus foresaw Saint Peter's denial.
In the cenacle, He had turned to him and said:
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."
The Father in heaven heared the prayer of his Son.
Because, although Satan severely tried the faith of Saint Peter, he didn't succeed. Saint Peter stood firm in his faith, and because of his strong faith, which a special disposal of God decided was never going to collapse, he received the gift of personal infallibility, to be able to confirm the faith of his companions.
The words the divine Saviour directs to Saint Peter in the room of the last supper have a fundamental meaning in Catholic theology about the Church as an institute of teaching. The Vatican Council refers to these words when it ascertains Saint Peter received from Jesus the special charisma of personal infallibility to protect the Church against all false doctrine.
The faith of Saint Peter was always firm. And it had to be firm, because as the highest official of the Church he had to teach the faithful, and because the Church he had to confirm should never deviate from true faith.
The Church should never give up orthodoxy and replace it with lies, or abandon the unity of doctrine and replace it with a schism of contradicting opinions. Therefore the power of Jesus' prayer exceeds the confirmation of only the first Pope: Christ gave official infallibility to all legitimate successors of Saint Peter, too.
Somewhere in the writings of Saint Thomas, the doctor angelicus is asking himself why the divine Saviour thought it necessary to pray for the personal faith of Saint Peter, and he answers his own question with the following clear explication:
"The reason is in 1 Corinthians 1, 10: 'I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought'. This unity of creed is not guaranteed if difficulties that may arise in connection with the creed, should not be solved by him who is the head of the whole Church, so that his decision is accepted by the whole Church without doubt."

There's another passage in the Lord's discourses that clearly shows the primacy of Saint Peter among his fellow apostles.
It's in the gospel of Saint Matthew, where he describes how Jesus turns to his first Apostle at the end of his stay in Galilee somewhere near Cesarea Philippi, asking: "And you, who do you think I am?"
Saint Peter answers: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God".
After Jesus made it clear to his Apostle he could not know this by himself but only by divine revelation, He continues:
"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Playing upon words - the Aramaic word 'Kepha' means 'rock' (Greek petra), but its masculine form is the name of Peter (Greek Petros) - Jesus says Peter is the foundation whereon He is going to build his visible Church.
The gates of hell will never overcome this Church. Satan will not be able to damage it, and the shutters of Hades will not close so as to contain the Church in this realm of the dead. Instead, the Church will forever stand firm on the rock Peter. Saint Peter also manages the keys that open the doors of heaven, the realm of God. He can open them, like he did for Cornelius, but he can also close them, like he did when he denied the entrance to Ananias and Saphira.
After all, Peter can bind and loose; he has the power and the permit to judge of the faith and love of any person, and he can proclaim laws the faithful can't shirk without punishment.
Whereas all Protestant theologians, for lack of firm arguments against the primacy of Saint Peter, speak in riddles we can easily see through, saying Jesus meant He himself was the rock, or this rock was the Apostles with their faith, or the faith of the Apostles, or the faith of Peter, but never the faithful Peter himself, the traditional Catholic interpretation is very natural and easy to understand.
The Catholic explication of Saint Matthew's petra text is not a backdoor or subterfuge, nor is it founded on prejudice or tricks.
If we wish to speak of an 'a priori', we can say the Catholic theologians hold the 'a priori' standpoint we should not distort the natural meaning of Jesus' words so far as to make them unrecognisable.
Saint Peter has the full primacy: he represents the personal official infallibility and the highest authority. The same holds for his successors, because Jesus explicitly predicted the Church was to be imperishable.
This primacy is so clearly exhibited in Cesarea Philippi that even Alfred Loisy, whom we can't suspect of explicit sympathy for Rome, finds friendly words for the Catholic interpretation:
"Ce n'est pas sans cause que la tradition catholique a fondé sur ce texte le dogme de la primauté romaine. La conscience de cette primauté inspire tout le développement de Matthieu, qui n'a pas eu seulement en vue la personne historique de Simon, mais aussi la succession traditionelle de Simon-Pierre."

Saint John, the beloved disciple of his Master, clearly acknowledges he himself is not appointed the rock of the Church, since the guidance of Christ's flock had been entrusted to Saint Peter.
John describes how the risen Christ appeared to the Apostles at the Sea of Galilee and gave them a big haul in a miraculous way. After the disciples collected the fishes, Jesus invited them to have breakfast with him:
"When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter: 'Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?' 'Yes, Lord', he said, 'you know that I love you.' Jesus said: 'feed my lambs'. Again Jesus said: 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' He answered: 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' Jesus said: 'take care of my sheep'. The third time He said to him: 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time: “do you love me?' He said: 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.' Jesus said: 'feed my sheep'."
Here Saint Peter receives from Jesus the right to tend the whole flock in His name: the lambs and the sheep. Now he gets the privilege his Master already announced when He appointed him the foundation and visible chief of the Church and charged him with confirming the faith of his fellow people. Peter is solemnly appointed the first Pope. His Church will never break down, because the force of the Founder is with it all days till the end of time.

The primacy of Saint Peter and all his legitimate successors on the episcopal see of Rome is the culminating point of the hierarchic community of all the faithful, who are convinced by Jesus' words that only by confessing the true faith and maintaining Christian morality and subjecting to the discipline of the true Church they can fulfil the wish of God which Christ communicated to the disciples when He founded the Church and charged it with preaching the true Religion and administering the sacraments of grace.
In this Church the Pope of Rome has the highest authorization, because Jesus explicitly said He wanted Peter to be the most responsible leader of his flock.
The Pope is the visible chief of the Church Militant and the successor of Saint Peter, and therefore he received from the God-Man the personal charisma of infallibility when practising his office. He doesn't have this gift as a consequence of any personal merits, although the firm faith of Peter made Jesus give him the highest executive power. The pope isn't infallible as a pastor, either, because his natural talents already guarantee he can perfectly lead the faithful. The authority of Peter and his successors on the episcopal see of Rome didn't come from any human vocation. Nor has the Church been built on human power. This would have been too fragile a base for a divine construction.
The visible chief of the Church thanks his election to the love of the Saviour for all who seek God and try to become perfect by serving God.
The eternal Word appeared on the earth at a given moment in history to reveal true Religion and show us the way to true happiness. And when the Son returned to the Father, He entrusted to his beloved foundation, the Church, the preaching of the new truth and the distribution of grace.
The only object of the Church is to further God's honour and man's happiness. Since it is based on Christ himself, it will always lead us to God as the eternal monument of God's love. All of its proclamations and laws and measures of discipline are only important because they come from God's love through the Incarnation and Redemption.
The primacy of Peter is not an exception. The visible Chief of the Church, too, owes his vocation to the love of the Redemptor, and his task is to serve people who try to reach eternal happiness.
The Pope is not a wilful ruler to whom the Catholics have to render themselves whenever he summons them to comply with some caprice.
He can't highhandedly preach a gospel that's not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nor can he arbitrarily dispose of the lives and well-being of people.
The Pope is the substitute of Christ on the earth, and as the supreme pastor of Jesus' flock he has to help the faithful to reach true happiness.

{{The Eastern schismatic Churches maintain the standpoint that visible unity of the Church isn't necesssary. They say most important is the unity of confession and acknowledging Christ is the invisible Head. They say the Pope of Rome has no more authority than the other patriarchs.

The Apostolate of Reunion, which did fine apostolic work in the Netherlands and elsewhere, can show many successes, although orthodox theology doesn't make its interference any easier, since liberal Protestantism strongly influenced it lately.

The Anglicans mostly accept Rome's interpretation of the petra text. However, although there's no biblical or dogmatic principle that separates them from the Roman Catholic Church and contradicts the Catholic doctrine of the pope's primacy, there are dogmatic objections against other Catholic matters of faith and above all difficulties of a historic nature that keep the Church of England back from the big step of reunion with Rome.
In the log of the Mechelen Conference we can read how much the High Church is trying to come closer to Rome without necessarily sticking to the own opinion about the pope's primacy. The Anglican representatives even went so far as to call reunion impossible if the authority of the pope should be sacrificed to meet a call for so little authority it couldn't be maintained.

Protestant theologians always tried to get round the difficulty of the petra text by either giving a clearly false interpretation or, as liberal critics use to do, calling it an interpolation.
Can't we call Luther's interpretation, that the Church is not built on Peter but on Peter's confession of faith, artificial?
And is Calvin's interpretation, that Christ meant He himself was the rock, and not Peter, more than a subterfuge?

Recent Protestant theologians mostly try to evade the difficulties of the petra text, but their exegetic reflections don't usually convince, because they continously ask we applaud their anti-Rome sentiments.
If we only look at the dogmatics of the youngest prominent reformed theologians, we see Kuyper, Bavinck and Honig all have a different opinion. According to Kuyper, only Christ is the fundament, and the petra text can't mean it's Peter. Bavinck needs many pages to explain 'legalist' Rome is guilty of an arbitrary interpretatation. When we ask how we have to understand Jesus' words "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church", they answer "It's only a metaphor; the Apostles together with Peter were meant to be the rock, or perhaps Christ himself was the rock the Apostles had to preach about to make Him the base of their community". Honig prefers to follow FW Grosheide, who says Peter's confession of faith is more important than his person.

Some liberal radicals (A Resch, I Grill, W Soltau and Adolf von Harnack) took a more radical and less evasive way. They see they can't evade the text as it is lying before them. That's why they think Christ never can have said these words, so the Catholic interpretation must rely on the erroneous assumption Matthew XVI, 18 and XVIII, 18 are authentic. These places must be interpolations.
One of the great modern theologians, professor Ferdinand Kattenbusch, made clear liberal criticism is weak at this point. In his contribution to the Von Harnack Festschrift, he insisted the petra text must be authentic and Christ based his Church on Peter alone:
"Dasz Matth XVI 18 ein Einschub sei, kann ich doch nicht annehmen. Mir ist es historisch und psychologisch ganz glaublich, dasz Jesus gerade in jenem feierlichen Momente dort bei Cäsarea Philippi seinen Willen kundgegeben habe, aus seinen Jüngern eine ecclesia zu gestalten ... Petrus soll der feste Punkt der Kirche der Seinen werden ... Petrus soll Torhüter, Wächter des Hauses sein, er soll entscheiden dürfen, wer in die Gemeinde eintreten und damit in das Reich Gottes kommen könne und wer nicht."
We need not be experts of the Bible to see the Protestants don't know what to do with the petra text. They are unsure about everything but that Rome can't be right. So we can hardly conclude they are studying without prejudice.
Concerning the Catholic doctrine of papal primacy, Honig says somewhere: "The only thing we didn't see yet is they adore the pope".
Catholics never have been shocked by such unkindness.
But what would professor Honig answer if Catholics would say, equally shortsighted and intolerant, the only thing they didn't see yet is Protestant theologians adore themselves?}}