“It is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” – Lumen gentium.
How do you know that the Catholic Church is the one founded by Christ? What aspects of the Church make it unique?
In 325 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine called the First Council of Nicaea. Among its many accomplishments, the Council of Nicaea developed a creed that would eventually take its name. The Nicene Creed sets forth four marks or characteristics which identify the Catholic Church as the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
The four marks indicate that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These brands are inseparably and intrinsically linked to each other. Jesus Christ marked the Church with these characteristics, which reflect her essential features and her mission. Through the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church accomplishes these goals.
In this article, I will provide an explanation of each of these brands. I will also show the significance of these marks in understanding the Catholic faith and why, by understanding these marks, we understand that it was God alone who created the Catholic Church.
The Church is one.
Jesus established only one Church, which is his bride (Ephesians 5:23-32), and Jesus can only have one bride, the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church teaches a single set of doctrines, which are the identical doctrines taught by the apostles (Jude 3). It is to this unity of belief that Scripture calls us (Philippians 1:27, 2:2). Over the centuries, as doctrines are examined in greater depth, the Church comes to understand them more deeply (John 16:12-13), but he never understands them to mean the opposite of what they once meant.
Ultimately, the Catholic Church is the one body of Christ that unites all of its members.
The church is holy
The holiness of the Catholic Church rests on the fact that it was founded by the Holy Trinity of God, who is the source of all holiness.
Holiness remains present in the Church thanks to the real presence of Jesus in his sacraments (See Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n° 14). Moreover, Mary and the saints exemplify the holiness of the Catholic Church.
The holiness of the Church is transmitted through its teachings and particularly through the sacraments entrusted to the Catholic Church by Jesus. As the presence of Christ sanctifies the Catholic Church, the Church also acts to sanctify its members. This sanctification is manifested by the works of the Church as well as by prayer and adoration.
This does not mean that every Catholic is or has been a saint. However, every Catholic is called to holiness. “Each Catholic must therefore strive for Christian perfection and, each according to his rank, play his part, so that the Church, which bears in her own body the humility and death of Jesus, may be daily more purified and renewed, against the day when Christ will present her to Himself in all her glory, without spot or wrinkle (Second Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism, no. 4).
The Church is Catholic
“There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The Church is also Catholic, that is, the Church is universal. In 110 AD, Saint Ignatius of Antioch first used the word Catholic to describe the Church as universal. (See Letter to the Smyrnas). This universality is true on several levels.
First, the Church is universal because Christ is present in the Church at all times and in all places. As the Catechism makes clear, the Church possesses the fullness of the faith and the totality of the means of salvation (Catechism Paragraph 868).
Second, the Church is universal because the doctrines and the sacraments are identical in all the Catholic Churches of the world. The Church is also universal in its mission. For the Church is called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
The Church is also catholic in the sense that the Church militant, which is the Church on earth, is united with the suffering Church in Purgatory and with the triumphant Church in Heaven.
The Church is apostolic
“It is not you who chose me, but I who chose you and who charged you to go and bear the fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will grant it. » (John 15:16).
The final mark of the Church is that it is apostolic. In order to ensure the transmission of the Gospel message, Christ founded the Church and entrusted his authority to the apostles. In turn, the apostles appointed bishops to succeed them. This line of succession continues to the present day with the college of bishops. This succession is made by the sacrament of Holy Orders.
The Church is also apostolic in that the deposit of faith found in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition has been preserved, taught and transmitted by the apostles. It is the duty of the Magisterium, guided by the Holy Spirit, to preserve, teach, defend and transmit the deposit of faith.
These four marks of the Church – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic – are which distinguishes the Catholic Church not only from other Christian denominations but also from other religions.
The Church has only one Founder, Jesus Christ, and the Church is one in its doctrines and governance. Moreover, as God is holy, so is his Church. The Church is catholic in that she alone possesses the fullness of truth throughout time and space. Finally, the Church is apostolic in that the bishops form an unbroken line of succession to the apostles.
“It is the only Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These four characteristics, inseparably linked to each other, indicate the essential features of the Church and its mission. The Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Articles 811-812).
It is the responsibility of every Catholic to make these four marks visible in our daily life.