Catholic Apologetics


THE CHURCH (continued)

The city on the mountain

The Church is the mystical Body of Christ. In a sense it is the continuation of Jesus' humanity.
The Son of the Father once earned the grace for us through his humanity, and after his ascension He applies this grace to us through his Church.
The same Christ who once stayed among us as a servant and made his sacrifice, is now working through his Church with his inspiring words and with the power of his grace. Christ will stay with us till the end of time and makes us participate in the merits of his Passion. With his plenary power over heaven and earth, He continues his work on the earth from heaven. He demonstrates his divine presence wherever his disciples tell people about the truth of his Gospel and baptism makes people happy children of God.
He is the principle of life that reinforces and guides the limbs of the body. His vitality gives the vines fertility and growth.
We can say the mystery of the suffering Redemptor is continued in a double mystery after the Redemption: first, the secret of the risen Christ who is sitting enthroned next his Father in heaven, and second, the secret of the same Christ who is present among the people on the earth, distributing the grace in his mystical Body.
However, Catholics are convinced Christ is not divided.
Indeed, the Word made his humanity participate forever in the glory of his Person, after bridging the infinite distance between the good God and the sinful people, but this doesn't prevent that the same Word is the only base and principle of life of the Church and has another mystical Body on the earth in the organical community of the faithful, which lives by his power and grows by the fertility of his grace.
For our natural reason, the union of the Word's human and divine nature in the Church is not less understandable than the hypostatical union of the two natures in one Person. Revelation commands we believe both secrets. Indeed, we didn't learn these supernatural truths through flesh and blood, but the Father has spoken through the Son. Therefore Catholics confess both the incarnation of the Logos and the mystery of the Church in the same creed:
"I believe ... in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who was incarnate by the Holy Ghost out of the Virgin Mary ... and in the Holy Catholic Church."
The great secret Saint Paul speaks about when comparing the mystical marriage of Christ and his Church with the marriage of man and wife, is a matter of faith. Reason can't independently analyse the institute of the Church and get to its soul. The soul of the Church, which makes it a fruitful organism, whereas by itself it's only a lifeless body, is not only spiritual, but also divine, because it's grace. Now things divine aren't open to natural experience. During our life on earth only God can reveal us things essentially divine, if only in faulty analogous images. Wherever things divine are being connected with visible creation, our natural intellect can't see them, except indirectly through causality.

But this doesn't mean we can't see the Church of Christ at all!
The Incarnation, too, is a supernatural mystery. In the relationship between God and man it is even the deepest mystery we can imagine, because the Word doesn't only strengthen and sanctify his human nature by the force and inspiration of his grace, but also attracts it most tenderly and connects it with his divine Person.
Yet Christ became man and was one of us. Mary gave birth to him, the shepherds and the three wise men adored him. And after a life among his mates in the house and in the region, people crucified him and buried his dead body.
Truly it was the Son of God who was a man like us and preached to us and performed miracles for us.

We can say the same about the Church as the mystical Body of Christ.
Here, too, the human and divine nature are connected.
Although the connection is not as intimate as in the God-Man, because the visible institute of the Church isn't directly connected with Christ's Person but with his purpose and means, that is to make people holy and save them with his grace, we do recognize in the Church, too, a supernatural secret, because the deeper essence of the mystical marriage between the Lamb of God and his Bride the Church, the way this marriage is being brought about and becomes fertile for our happiness, is beyond the horizont of our natural intellect.
However, as the Word became flesh and lived among us as a man, who speaks and works with his fellow people, so Jesus' grace of redemption chose its way in the world of suffering and fighting people, and was canalized in the veins of an earthly organism. The power of the risen Christ stays among us and works in a community with the characteristics of a visible organisation.
Whoever says the Church has been built on human forces, because it binds its members with a natural hierarchic structure and develops its activity with preaching by word of mouth and public worship, forgets that the Word during his mission on the earth received plenary power over all things in heaven and on earth, and called both matter and spirit to glorify God, and made all human things serve the supernatural ideal for which He became man like us.
If someone thinks the Church is only a human construction, he fails to appreciate the deep sense of the Redemption, and doesn't understand the Gospel, which is a monument of God's love, and not a specimen of human genius and talent.
However, if someone says the Church is only a spiritual and invisible fellowship, based on the grace of Redemption and the influence of the Spirit and the belief in the mission of the Logos, he doesn't see the whole reality of the mystical Body, which may be a mystical and mysterious body, but is a body indeed and not a spirit. He neglects the lessons of the Saviour whenever He tells in clear words and parables the Church is a visible community we have to distinguish from all other communities or an impressive building we can't pass over without damaging ourselves because it is holding the most valuable treasures until the Last Judgment.

Nobody can read the hearts of people unless Gods who knows them.
The faith and the grace are spiritual values we can't directly perceive with our senses. But if we try to see them apart from people, we can hardly imagine how to compare them with a city on a mountain or a light on a candlestick.
Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the light of the world. A city upon a mountain can't be hidden. Nor do we light a candle to put it under a corn measure, but we place it on a stick to make it shine for all people in the house".
When Jesus is preaching about the joys of the Kingdom of God, He demonstrates it is the Father in heaven who attracts people and makes sinners become saints.
However, the love of God doesn't blind our natural intellect or take away our free will.
Jesus explicitly appeals to the thoughtfulness and firmness of people of good will. They have to confirm each other and will obtain invaluable rewards if they cooperate with God's intentions. But the malicious or rebellious or unfaithful, who don't answer God's call, are guilty before their conscience and before God. They will fare worse.
Our personal responsibility to express our choice for or against the Messiah, to choose belief or disbelief, to accept or reject grace, presupposes some natural knowledge of the supernatural truth of salvation. Jesus makes clear it's not ignorance but unwillingness that deprives the malicious from the joys of the kingdom of God.
If somebody calls the Church a merely spiritual institute, how does he explain the parables of the sower, the treasure in the field, the lost pearl, the unwilling guests at the wedding, the thoughtful houseguard, the watchful and careless servants, and the fruitful talents?
We see Jesus says the unfaithful owe their ill fate to themselves. So we can't say the kingdom of God may have been visible in Christ, but will never be visible in the Church.

The Church of Christ is a visible Church.
It's not only the members that make the Church visible. The Church is more than the sum of its members; it is a community, and as a community it is visible.
The divine Master himself established the primacy of the highest priest, the subordinate offices, the administration of sacraments, the preaching of the word, and the spiritual activity of the institute of doctrine and grace, in the visible structure of a hierarchic organisation.
He told his disciples to come out with his Name, pray and make sacrifices together, give the holy Spirit to others by some perceptible sign or sacrament like washing with water or laying on hands, and above all love each other to make outsiders see who are the true disciples of the Saviour.

It's easy to understand all words Jesus spoke, when promising or establishing his beloved foundation, in a symbolic or metaphorical sense.
But then arises the question why He was always speaking in riddles and why He never clearly said what He meant by the Church and its offices.
And Saint Paul, didn't he understand the plans of God?
Saint Paul knows very well that faith and grace are spiritual things, and he does emphasize their invisible nature.
But how do we have to understand his sublime doctrine if by the mystical Body of Christ he only means an invisible community and a spiritual alliance of grace ?
Body and mind are always opposite to some degree. The mind can influence the body, but the body can't become mind.
Is it reasonable to call the mystical Body of Christ a merely spiritual thing?
Furthermore, the Apostle of the gentiles repeatedly used images to demonstrate the Church is visible.
He calls the community of Corinth a field of God or a building of God and he says we are the temple of God.
He writes to the Ephesians: "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with Godís people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."

We have to admit that accepting a visible Church which is not only a spiritual community of faith or an alliance of grace but also a visible institute of doctrine and salvation, brings many consequences we can't underestimate.
The Catholic isn't afraid of these consequences at all. There are many reasons that convince him the Almighty doesn't disturb the natural order of his creation and uses the things of the visible world to propagate the faith and communicate sacrifying grace.
Furthermore, Revelation assured him God united all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

{{In its doctrine about the Church, the Reformation always emphasized the invisible community rather than the visible community.
It doesn't often deny the latter, although some do object against applying the concept of 'Church' on certain groups with unfaithful and sinners among them, but they mostly prefer the spiritual side, because the Protestants think it's the grace that constitutes the Church and not the authority of persons or institutes.

The Protestant principle can't prevent lack of discipline, because it says the Church as a spiritual community is a foundation of God, but denies God approves of the Church as a visible institute. However, the supporters of discipline in the Protestant Church can refer to a tradition that maintained itself during a long time, not only in severe acts of the synods, but also in theology. The disciplinary measures against the Remonstrants form an example.
The authors of the well known Protestant 'Synopsis' define the Church as the 'assembly of persons who join one visible body to preach or hear preaches, administer or receive sacraments, and impose or comply with discipline'.

We see the Reformed in the Netherlands find it difficult to formulate the concept of a visible Church.
Kuyper never went so far as to call churches 'false' if they neglected the correct preaching or administration of sacraments or the discipline. He thought the true and living Church is essentially invisible. Bavinck, who writes a lot against the Catholic concept of Church, says the Church is a mere matter of faith, as if this should be a definite characterisation. Meantime, he speaks about a visible side of the Church, too, without clearly admitting it's visible. Honig says the Church becomes visible whenever people come out with Christ and the truth He revealed or whenever we see a devout way of life.

The Ethical Protestants think the Scripture doesn't contain prescripts that are forever rules of the Church. They don't think the official documents of confession are very important. Most important is the faith of the community, which isn't documented in formulas or articles. This faith is invisible and belongs to all born again Christians.

The Baptists, who don't maintain relations with any other churches, insist religious life is humiliated whenever it forms a visible organisation. The visible Church of the Catholics must be fiction, because the Gospel doesn't speak about it, and it was only called to life by people who wished to form a society. However, if Protestanrs call the Church an invisible community, they don't understand the Gospel, either, because they forget the spiritual attitude before God is related to the individual person. So Baptists think 'invisible Church' is nonsense, as much as 'inaudible sounds' or 'invisible colours'.}}

The sign in the sky

The holy Church has a visible side and an invisible side. Nevertheless, it's one and undivided.
It's a unity, like a man is a unity, although he's composed of matter and spirit.
Just as the human soul gives to the body existence, form, essence and activity, and the body would not be able to be itself without this 'inspiration' by the soul, so the power of the risen Christ is inspiring his mystical Body on earth. This power makes the Church a living and fruitful institute of education and salvation. If the risen Christ didn't make it live and the Helper didn't guide and comfort it, it would already be doomed to death at the moment of its foundation.
But the Church is alive!
It's alive as an organism whose soul is Christ, developing a richer vitality and able to do greater things than if it were only a natural community, built on human forces, because in this case its activity couldn't be larger and stronger than the activity of human mind.
It's true: we can't immediately perceive the forces of the risen Christ, which in the mystical Body on the earth make lives holy and deeds meritorious before God, just as it's impossible to directly see the soul or mind or will of a man.
Nevertheless, the influence of God's grace isn't completely invisible to our natural reason. The power of Christ may be mysterious in its essence, but it reveals itself in its effects as a supernatural cause, for it causes phenomenons nobody can explain.
The grace of Jesus is projecting itself somewhere within the field of view of human mind, and throwing its shadows over our world of sounds and colours and finite things and limited possibilities. We can't directly see the things of God, not even in the Church. But we can conclude that God's force is at the base of the way the Church of Christ reveals itself to us, just as we can conclude that the human intellect has not only a material but also a spiritual base.
Human activity isn't only material, but also spiritual. So it's not only a living body, but the living body is inspired by a spiritual soul.
Likewise, the activities of the Church of Christ aren't only natural, but they also reveal themselves at a higher level: the supernatural level of the life of grace. So the Church is not a merely natural community, built by people, but a foundation of God.

The supernatural life of the Church is a mystery only its Founder and Maintainer can completely see through. But we, too, can see the Church isn't only natural. It's a miracle of morality, and this way we see God willed it. The Vatican Council said it briefly and to the point: "The Church continuously shows it's credible and founded by God".

Nobody can deny there's a difference between the miracles Jesus performed some twenty centuries ago to confirm his doctrine, showing his power over God's visible creation, and the miracles this same Jesus, now risen from death, keeps performing in his mystical Body, showing his power in the community of the faithful, which is high above other human communities because of its great purpose and means, its authority and organisation, its doctrine and its life.
Whoever knows something of theology, especially about God's immediate interference with the normal course of nature and the influence of his grace on the human soul, knows that our mind and senses value the raising of a dead person in a way distinct from, for instance, the sudden conversion of a disbeliever. The first miracle is directly tangible, because the dead body moves and rises up; but the second miracle may remain invisible, because it's not the visible body which the almighty God miraculously gives a new life to, but the human mind, whose characteristics we can only indirectly deduce.
Sudden conversion is as much a work of God as raising a dead person; both phenomenons are strange to nature. But conversion doesn't astonish us as much. The physical miracle is speaking more directly, and doesn't presuppose in the perceiver as much acuteness as the moral miracle, which we don't immediately see, but deduce gradually.

When Jesus was still among us as a human person, He performed many miracles to confirm his divine mission. The physical miracles, which may have been less numerous, must have made the deepest impression.
When Jesus calmed the storm, feeded the multitude, healed an ill person, or restored life to a dead one, the divine force usually made the witnesses rely upon the fact He was God and his words were true more than when He miraculously interfered in the thoughts or will of a man or reclaimed a sinner.
But now it's clear enough Christ is God, and only the shortsighted or unwilling can doubt this. The Christian doctrine of Revelation is being safely documented in books or rendered by word of mouth, and the authority of the Church is defending it against damage and destruction. Jesus' grace of redemption is being applied to the faithful every day. So now it's mostly the grace that keeps performing miracles, and these are miracles of a moral nature.
The physical miracle is standing in the background, and the sanctification of the souls in the foreground.
However, we shouldn't emphasize the distinction between the miracles that had to demonstrate the truth during the founding of the Church and the moral miracle that's the Church itself. In both cases the God wants to sanctify the souls by directly interfering in the normal course of events. The same Christ who then used his transcendent power to demonstrate He is the Son of God, now testifies He's present by making the Church appear as his miraculous mystical Body.
The purpose of the Founder of the Church, when He showed He was the Master of the visible creation, is the same as the purpose of Him who keeps the Church alive, showing to all nations his mystical Body as a Signum Levatum - a flag hoisted high.

When the Vatican Council sums up some characteristics that give the Catholic Church this exceptional transcendent and supernatural character that makes it rise high above all other profane and religious communities, the first characteristic is its miraculous propagation.
Catholicism has always been fascinating. And it will be fascinating as long as there are people on the earth for whose happiness the Redemptor sacrificed his life.
The persons who can't resist the attractive power of the Church and confess it has the authority and sanctity of its Founder, aren't all simple. From the circles of the respectable, too, numerous joined the Catholic Church.

{{Some alleged aristocrats don't mind the numerous conversions to Catholicism, some hundreds of thousands a year, and show an arrogant contempt for the Catholic Church as a resort for backward souls.
We need not thoroughly test the intellect of these aristocrats to know the judgment of the simple is usually closer to truth than the bold opinion of these odd liberals. However, everybody knows there are many conversions in the high society, too. To show this, we give the names of only a few of the recent converts whose conversion to Catholicism was mentioned in the press.

From nobility: queen Astrid (Belgium), princess Anna von Hohenzollern and L von Handel Mazzetti (Germany), the duke of Marlborough, earl Iddesleigh, countess van Cutsem, the ladies H Asquith, B Gironard and V Erskine (England), Gustaf baron of Armfeld (Sweden), Esperanza Garrigue (Czechoslovakia), prince Alexander Wolkonski (Russia), Mehmet Ali Mulla and Ali Ben Brain (Turkey).

High officials and diplomats: minister Marchant (Netherlands), sir Samuel Hoare (England), minister Bianchi (Italy), Rob Howard (United States), A Garcia (Orange Free State), Michael Alekseevich Andreyev and Alexander Alekseev (Russia), the ministers Lou Tseng Tsiang and Lo Pa Hong (China), mrs Katsuji Debuchi (Japan).

Military men in high positions: colonel Barten, lieutenant-colonel AFH Blaauw (Netherlands), colonel John Mac-Kay (England), general Brian-Mahon (Ireland), general Ezio Garibaldi (Italy), colonels St Daring Hope and Ph J Zakorski (US).

From the clergy: WH van Pol (Netherlands), HC Wendtland and dr Thieme (Germany), Oscar Bauhofer (Switzerland), Nils Beskow (Sweden), Chindon Engleheart, WE Orchard, C Vernon, D Davis, Th Penrose Try, Ronald Knox, M Bell, E Owen, Fr Silling, E Th Baldwin, Arnold Lunn, JHC Marfarlane Barrow, and many others (England), mgr Crasman, mgr Kinsman, L Burden, C Francis Miller, HA Shiling, KH Jones, H Burkey, G Wallace, J Bowyer-Campbell, and many others (US), the Anglican missionaries M Ramsay (Orange Free state), MB Betteridge (Bengal), Kawakani and Kandi Stephan Fukai (Japan), Nikita and Peter Denisenko (Poland), the archimandrites Nicolaus and Alexeev, pope Pasnik, and many others (Russia), the jacobite bishops Ivanios and Theophilos (Malabar), Flor Mata y Mendosa (Philippines).

Famous scholars: MJ Granpré-Molière, F Buitendijk and miss dr CJ de Vogel (Netherlands), Jacques Maritain, Gabriel Marcel and Henri Bergson (France), G Melville Smith and Whittaker (England), dr Carelius, Lars Eskeland and Alf Hoogd (Norway), J Kovacs (Hungary), A Gemelli and G Marchesini (Italy), Vladimir Soloviev (Russia), John Moody, Selden PM Delany (US), senator Brabosa (Brazil), M Charian (Madras), Abul Hassan Khan Mohagheghi (Iran).

Artists: Jan Toorop (Netherlands), FL Griggs and Clare Consuelo Sheridan (England), L Cheng (China), FX Okayama and professor Ozana (Japan).

Famous actors and singers: Al Hasler (England), S Davis, KH Lawson and Grace Moore (US), Eve Lavallière (France), Okuda (Japan).

Famous writers: Pieter van der Meer van Walcheren, Ellen Russe, Frederik van Eeden, Henri Borel (Netherlands), Gertrud von Le Fort, Ilse Franke (Germany), Hermann Bahr (Austria), Joannes Jörgensen (Danmark), Sigrid Undset and Göta van Geierstam (Norway), MA Attico Ahnfeld (Sweden), Paul Bourget, Paul Claudel, Charles Péguy, Ernest Psichari and François Mauriac (France), Giovanni Papini (Italy), Armando Palacio Valdès (Spain), Alexandra Rachmanova (Russia), GK Chesterton, Compton Mackenzie, Marion Crawford, Guy Thorne, A Noyes, E Oldmeadow, Blanche Warre Cornish, Francesca Steele, Clothilde Graves, John Asycough, Maurice Baring, Robert Hugh Benson, Evelyn Waugh, Sheila Kaye Smits (England), miss Reed, Anne Nichols and Clare Boothe Luce (US).

Journalists with a world wide reputation: Ellis Asmead Barlett, WR Titterton and Clark Fisher (England), P Hunt and Louis Budenz (US), J George (Madras).

Furthermore, numerous remarkable conversions like those of the well known industrials L Zuburias (Spain) and Henri Ford jr (US), - of the social workers E Dessewffi Meltosagos (Hungary), M Petrescu (Rumania) and Anna Schein Foquel (Russia), - of the freemasons L Andrieux (France), Rowbothan (Madras), and president Guezon (Philippines, - and of the Ku Klux Klan members Philip A Calahan and J Ph Morris (US).}}.

Catholicism grew especially in the beginning of our era, when the youthful Church had to resist much thirst for blood. Yet so many people joined it that the envy of the enemies couldn't keep up with it.
The unbelievable expansion of the Catholic church, the miraculous development of the little mustard seed into a tree with many branches, can only be explained with the inspiration by Him who, when still living among us as a human, could provide the guests at the Cana wedding with wine and feed more than five thousand people in the Capharnaum plain with a few loaves and fishes.

The moral miracle of the propagation of the faith, especially in times of persecution, is connected with the physical miracles the inhabitants of Palestine were allowed to behold. This connection includes more than the fact Jesus performs both sorts of miracles. For the physical miracles help causing the moral one.
Saint Thomas Aquinas has a sharp view again, when he writes:
"Numerous persons, both simple ones and educated, resorted to Christian faith, which is beyond human intellect and teaches we have to fast and despise earthly goods. Surprisingly, they did so in spite of persecution, and not by the force of arms or the promise of sensual enjoyments. It's the greatest of all miracles that people rendered themselves to this faith, and it also proves the minds are being led by God who makes them long for the invisible and despise the visible. Apparently, we can only explain this as caused by God's will. Indeed, God repeatedly foretold this through his prophets, whose writings we esteem highly, because they confirm the truth of our faith.
As for this, we refer to the Epistle to the Hebrews which speaks of the salvation the Lord preached about and God confirmed with signs and miracles and gifts of the holy Spirit.
Now this miraculous conversion of the world to Christian faith ensures us that formerly many miracles happened which speak so clearly they don't have to be repeated. It would have been miraculous indeed if simple and inconsiderable people should accept such obscure facts and endure so many hardships and cherish so high expectations without these physical miracles."
What Saint Thomas is saying here in connection with the conversion of many people during the persecutions of the Church by the Roman emperors from Nero to and including Diocletian, holds for all times and all nations.
The love for Christ's ideal didn't always triumph over the smallmindedness and hatred of the world so clearly as when it had become a sport to throw the Christians before the lions. However, throughout the centuries numerous generous souls have abolished a life that was too easy and pleasant and accepted the hatred of worldly people by converting to Catholicism for the love of Jesus, because they knew He was the first to render himself to the tortures of human foolishness.
The fact that many turn out to be too weak to subject themselves lastingly to the Catholic duties, doesn't imply other ideals are better than those of Catholism. Nor will they find Jesus on mount Tabor when flying from Golgotha. It only means numerous people join the flock of Christ because they feel inspired by a force stronger than the enchantment of a pleasant and easy life. As for this, it doesn't matter whether they come from the Jews or from the gentiles, the free or the slaves, the simple or the considerable, the Protestants or the atheists.
When the Vatican Council applies Isaiah's image of the flag hoisted high to the Catholic Church, it refers not only to its miraculous growth, but also to other clear characteristics: its exceptional sanctity and fruitfulness, its unity and constancy.
The Council apparently wished to throw a light on the divine character of the striking properties of the Church which the former Council of Constantinopel already called 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic'.

Outsiders who got acquainted with the Catholic Church by looking only just at its official life, or judge the essence of Catholicism after reading only prejudiced literature, often think these four characteristics the Catholic refers to, to demonstrate the Catholic Church alone can save us, are arbitrary, because the Church invented them for convenience and propaganda. They say being one, holy, catholic and apostolic doesn't belong to the essence of the Church, because its Founder didn't explicitly mention these characteristics nor even hint at them. So the pure preaching and administration of sacraments the Protestants use to emphasize could easily replace them.
We understand such an opinion can maintain itself among the followers of Churches that separated themselves from the Mother Church in the course of the centuries. It had to maintain itself, because the standpoint of the Reformation had to be defended.
However, the Catholics are convinced such a self-defence is only a subterfuge. It came from fear and from desire for self-preservation, and was not the result of a calm and unprejudiced reflection on the words of God's Revelation. It has the character of a program that was only accepted because there was nothing better.

We can easily defend the Catholic standpoint.
Indeed, apart from the fact Catholic preaching and administration of sacraments are purer yet, because we have to consider not only their practice but also their origins, the four characteristics of the Church we mentioned above have a great apologetical value because the Catholic Church exclusively owns them, and because the Person of the Word revealed God's will which the unprejudiced observer can recognize in the transcendent form of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Was it someone from the Church who predicted every kingdom divided against itself would be ruined?
Was it a pope of Rome who invented the significant image of one shepherd and one flock?
Was it a doctor of the Church who showed that the connection between the Father and the Son clearly made the connection between the faith and the Church even more credible? Was it Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas who asked the Father in heaven for unity among the followers of Christ?
No, it was Christ himself who prayed:
"May all of them be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
Whoever knows the answer to these questions but doesn't want to seek the Church were Christ's unity is realized, makes reading the Bible useless and prefers the human judgment above the Revelation, even though he may intend the opposite.
The Catholic needs not fear the criticism of dissenting Christians.
He has a right to think it's not reasonable when the critics say "the Church of Rome no longer knows how to measure unity by reference to the Word of God who's above the Church".
Indeed, nothing prevents the Catholic from referring to what the Lord has said. For it was Jesus himself who gave the Church his signature of visible unity, so all people of good will can see its divine nobleness.

We can apply the same to the other three characteristics.
The Church proudly shows its exceptional sanctity and inexhaustible fruitfulness.
Again, the divine Founder himself justifies this pride, for He was sent to sanctify people with the truth of his Gospel and the force of his grace. In his prayer for his disciples He asked for this sanctity:
"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified."
And Saint Paul said about Jesus' sanctifying love for his Church the following:
"Christ gave himself up for the Church to make it holy, cleansing it by washing it with water and by preaching, and to present it to himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."

The Church calls itself 'catholic' (universal), so it rightfully says it meets the requirements of its divine Founder, who sent his apostles to all parts of the world to preach the Gospel to all creation.
This universality that any individualism of persons or classes or nations has to submit to already appeared in the first years of preaching when Saint Paul wrote:
"Now there is neither Jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Finally, when the Church says it's 'apostolic', thus claiming the exceptional privilege of maintaining the eternal values of Christian faith and morals throughout the centuries, it again says it only does what Jesus is asking. Jesus promised to stay with his Church till the end of time. To confirm the faith and administer the sacraments forever He appointed Saint Peter the highest leader of the Church and decided Saint Peter's legal successors would receive the same plenary power and the same assistance of the holy Spirit.
Truly, the Church was built "on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone."

The only true Church received its distinction from its Founder and not from a pope or a Council.
We can't imagine how discord can be preferred to unity, but it's not only the unity of faith and life that's pleading for the Catholic Church, and it certainly isn't arbitrariness that makes us claim that only the Catholic Church can save the souls.
We can't blame non-Catholic theology for ignoring what Catholicism deduces from Revelation in its own favour. But a Catholic is flabbergasted when he reads in the writings of Herman Bavinck that the Protestants returned to the Scripture from which they determine what distinguishes the true Church from the false Church, whereas traditional Catholic theology failed to do so.
Rome should be ashamed!
But Rome is not ashamed!
Because Catholics are convinced the contrast Bavinck refers to isn't that big.
The only contrast is that Rome, while insisting on its own explication of the Scripture, dares to understand the Gospel more freely and completely than the Reformation, whose anti-Rome theology of 'sola Scriptura' makes it shun free investigation.

{{The Protestants, too, discuss the characteristics of the true Church.
Of course, they conclude the true one isn't the Catholic Church, but some Protestant Church.
However, they aren't sure about the number of these characteristics, and they aren't convincing, either, because they are subjective.

Bavinck admits the leading Reformers hesitate a bit:
"Luther mentioned seven characteristics in his writing 'Von den Concilien und Kirchen': the pure practice of preaching, baptism, supper, keys, choice of ministers, public prayer and teaching, and the cross; but elsewhere he mentioned only two: the pure practice of preaching and administering sacraments. Melanchton and other Lutheran theologians did the same, but Melanchton added in his 'Examen Ordinandorum' a third one: obedientia ministerio debita juxta evangelium.
Some prominents among the Reformed, like Beza, Sohnius, Alsted, Amesius, Maresius, mentioned only one characteristic: the true practice of preaching; others, like Calvin, Bullinger, Zanchius, Junius, Gomarus, Mastricht, Marck and others, mentioned two: the pure practice of preaching and administering sacraments; many others added a third characteristic: the true practice of discipline or holy life."
But Bavinck doesn't think this lack of unanimity is serious. He, and Alsted, Mastricht and others remark there's in fact only one characteristic: 'the one bible that in various ways is preached, taught, confessed, administered, applied, etc."

This sounds like a splendid theory.
But this way they make the characteristic subjective and personal without unprejudiced supervision.
Because each Protestant group has its own view on the sense of the Gospel and therefore its own judgment of the right practice of preaching and administering sacraments and offices and choice of ministers, we can't be surprised Catholics say Protestant characteristics of the true Church need characteristics that demonstrate which explanations of their characteristics are true.
Who can decide in which Church is the pure practice of preaching and administering sacraments?
Isn't it each singular Protestant who sees the characteristics of the true Church in the light of his personal view on faith, so can only consider his own group the right one?
Each Protestant feels obliged to consider the Roman Church a violation of the Gospel, but each Protestant has his own view on the Gospel. That's why the opinions about the true Church are very different among confessional, ethical and liberal Protestants. The old reformed lament the new reformed are false. The Christian reformed curse all Churches but their own one, which they consider the only true sheep-cot of Christ.
If the Protestants can't mention other characteristics than the pure practice of preaching, the unprejudiced observer has no reason to value the judgment of Herman Bavinck more than the judgment of JJ van der Schuit or JL Snethlage. They all say the Gospel is decisive. But it's the Gospel as they understand it.

Protestant theologians want to oppose a conclusion they can't oppose: their opinion about the characteristics of the true Church is senseless.
The reason why the Reformation composed its own characteristics was they wished to reject the Roman Church, but they couldn't objectively justify the own Church.
Men like Berkouwer may write many books to claim Catholic theologians can't ever legitimate their Church without prejudice, because the allegedly unfallible Church uses its own characteristics, but as long as the Protestant can only justify his Church by referring to the personal allegedly unfallible "submission to God's word", he can only convince his fellow Protestants.

All Christians have to listen to God's word, both the Catholics and the Protestants.
However, since there's only one Gospel, the practice of preaching should be unanymous, too.
We can't pass off this obligation by being too confident when legitimating the own Church with characteristics that can't be verified.}}

Only the Catholic Church complies with the ideal Christ referred to when comparing his 'small flock' with a little mustard seed that becomes a mighty tree, or when describing in the parable of the leaven the grace that was to give to God's kingdom on the earth the power to survive a thousand earthly kingdoms and give to people of all nations and generations the eternal luxury of being citizens of this kingdom of the Una Sancta.
We learn from the history of the last twenty centuries only the Catholica Ecclesia can give Jesus the rights He claimed, because it's a visible and hierarchic community directed by Peter and his legal successors and brings no strange revelations nor new graces, but explains the unique Revelation of Christ to all faithful and applies the grace of Redemption to all people.
Jesus wished his Church would hand down the whole truth He brought and the holy grace He earned without mutilation to all nations and generations.
The Catholic Church doesn't have to refer to characteristics that can't be verified. Being the mystical Body of Christ, it reveals God's power is working in it. It guarantees forever the unity of faith and love Jesus aimed at.
God's Spirit is guarding it.
Under the direction of the Spirit, it can protect itself from contamination by the world in whose full life it is participating. It finds the power and the means to be itself and defend its standpoint against all unchristian principles that a too human view on life is trying to force upon it. It resists the inclination to schism that would violate its unity and the profanation of sacrifice and sacrament that would violate its sanctity. It makes a stand both against small-minded particularity that would endanger its universal vocation, and against modernism that would destroy the heritage of the Apostles.
The Church not only has a right to call itself holy, catholic and apostolic, but is holy, catholic and apostolic in practice too.

The Church had to endure many storms in the course of time.
It defied them all!
People use to overestimate their weak intellect and they often refuse to believe mysterious dogmas. They passionately try to free themselves from the morality revealed in the bible. But the Church always made them feel its authority and defended God's truth and God's right against human shortsightedness and sensuality.
The scornful deaths of the Founder and early heralds of the Church hindered the fruitfulness of its youth; and later on many of its gifted children gave their hearts to the world or their sharp minds to a socalled science that didn't appreciate Catholic orthodoxy. But it bravely kept up the fight against the paralyzing and destructive factors that threatened both its internal and its external growth, so now it's becoming clearer than ever it's gaining the victory.
Sometimes some of its own sons revolted against the authority of the popes or the councils, or they put some political or national interest above the general interest. But then the Church remembered the wise advice of its Founder: "If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you ". And it didn't take half measures, but applied its discipline to save its constitutional and doctrinal unity, often sacrificing many of its members or even en entire ecclesiastical province.

The Church's love for all and everything is even more impressive than the power with which it defends itself in the fight for God's honour and rights. It is the Church of Man, just as its Founder is the Son of Man.
It is prepared to do all good works, is open to everybody, acknowledges every truth and every value, and accepts all things good and beautiful, as a means to perfect man and serve God. It doesn't forget we're human, depending on our senses to satisfy our needs, but it hopes we'll get a place in the kingdom of God, because man with his soul and body, his intellect and his will, is the most precious pearl in visible creation.
Therefore nothing can restrain its zeal. It appreciates the intercourse of a man and his wife, too, because it is the secret that is analogous to the relation between Christ and his Church, although human selfishness may take away its nobleness.
When applying God's grace, it doesn't place limits it doesn't want to cross. On the road of its apostolic works there's only one barrier: sin, which is the violation of God's honour and man's happiness.
It maintains a dialogue with the cultures of the world, appreciates the own nature of every people and the natural love of one's country, and uses all means to help everybody.
It cleans and sanctifies the souls with the waters of grace, so people are born again.
It makes its children perform miracles of love and sacrifice in the name of Jesus.
Its canonized saints, like confessors, virgins and martyrs, and numerous unknown pious people who guarantee the truth of the Gospel everywhere, heroically break away from sin to become friends of Christ.
These things were true in the first century, and they are true now, and they will remain true until the day of the last judgment, because the truth and the power of the Church demonstrate its eternal youthfulness.

The Vatican Council rightfully says the Church is like a Flag hoisted high among the nations, which is calling all people who haven't accepted faith yet, and ensuring its faithful their faith has a firm base.
The Catholic Church is enchanting because its Founder made it enchanting and the holy Spirit keeps lighting the fire of divine power and love.
An impressive building like the Catholic Church may frighten the unbelieving, and some may shrink from it because they remember some bad experience of their ancestors.
Yet Christ establishes in his Church the alliance of grace between himself and his elected. The same Christ is calling people with the Flag hoisted high and making saints out of sinners in the Church as an institute of grace.
All are invited.
This holds for those many loyal people who have joined the Christian faithful, thinking that, if they follow any banner at all, it isn't the Catholic flag.
It even holds for those who don't have a clear view on the cross and the altar yet, but already see the Catholic Church as the unique resort for seekers and the only institute that is offering real chances of direct communication between God and the soul.
GA Van den Bergh van Eysinga once wrote: "If we assume that God must have established the Church to save us, I think the Catholic Church is the classical and impressive example. Because of its great past, its millions of faithful and its admirable organization, it's tolerable when it presumes there's no salvation outside itself.