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The Faith of Our Fathers


The Faith of Our Fathers

V. Apostolicity

The true Church must be Apostolical. Hence in the Creed framed in the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea, in the year 325, we find these words: "I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."

This attribute or note of the Church implies that the true Church must always teach the identical doctrines once delivered by the Apostles, and that her ministers must derive their powers from the Apostles by an uninterrupted succession.

Consequently, no church can claim to be the true one whose doctrines differ from those of the Apostles, or whose ministers are unable to trace, by an unbroken chain, their authority to an Apostolic source; just as our Minister to England can exercise no authority by our Government and represents its views.

The Church, says St. Paul, is "built upon the foundation of the Apostles,"[Eph. ii. 20.] so that the doctrine which it propagates must be based on Apostolic teachings. Hence St. Paul says to the Galatians: "Though an angel from heaven preach a Gospel to you beside that which we have preached to you, let them be anathema."[Gal. I. 8.] The same Apostle gives this admonition to Timothy: "The things which thou hast heard from me before many witnesses the same commend to faithful men who shall be fit to teach others also."[II. Tim. ii. 2.] Timothy must transmit to his disciples only such doctrines as he heard from the lips of his Master.

Not only is it required that ministers of the Gospel should conform their teaching to the doctrine of the Apostles, but also that these ministers should be ordained and commissioned by the Apostles or their legitimate successors. "Neither doth any man," says the Apostle, "take the honor to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was."[Heb. v. 4.] This text evidently condemns all self-constituted preachers and reformers; for, "how shall they preach, unless they be sent?"[Rom. x. 15.] Sent, of course, by legitimate authority, and not directed by their own caprice. Hence, we find that those who succeeded the Apostles were ordained and commissioned by them to preach, and that no others were permitted to exercise this function. Thus we are told that Paul and Barnabas "had ordained for them priests in every church."[Acts xiv. 22.] And the Apostles says to Titus: "For this cause I left thee in Crete, ... that thou shouldst ordain Priests in every city, as I also appointed thee."[Tit. I. 5.] Even St. Paul himself, though miraculously called and instructed by God, had hands imposed on him,[Acts xiii. 2, 3.] lest others should be tempted by his example to preach without Apostolic warrant.

To discover, therefore, the Church of Christ among the various conflicting claimants we have to inquire, first, which church teaches wholes and entire those doctrines that were taught by the Apostles; second, what ministers can trace back, in an unbroken line, their missionary powers to the Apostles.

The Catholic Church alone teaches doctrines which are in all respects identical with those of the first teachers of the Gospel. The following parallel lines exhibit some examples of the departure of the Protestant bodies from the primitive teachings of Christianity, and the faithful adhesion of the Catholic Church to them.

Apostolic Church Catholic Church Protestant Churches
1. Our Savior gives pre-eminence to Peter over the other Apostles: "I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven."[Matt. xvi. 18.] "Confirm thy brethren."[Luke xxii. 32.] "Feed My lambs; feed My sheep."[John xxi. 15.] The Catholic Church gives the primacy of honor and jurisdiction to Peter and to his successors. All other Christian communions practically deny Peter's supremacy over the other Apostles.
2. The Apostolic Church claimed to be infallible in her teachings. Hence the Apostles spoke with unerring authority, and their words were received not as human opinions, but as Divine truths. "When you have received from us the word of God, you received it not as the word of men, but (as it is indeed) the word of God."[Thess. ii. 13.] "It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us," say the assembled Apostles, "to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things."[Acts xv. 28.]

"Though an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema."[Gal. I. 8.]

The Catholic Church alone, of all the Christian communions, claims to exercise the prerogative of infallibility in her teaching. Her ministers always speak from the pulpit as having authority, and the faithful receive with implicit confidence what the Church teaches, without once questioning her veracity. All the Protestant churches repudiate the claim of infallibility. They deny that such a gift is possessed by any teachers of religion. The ministers pronounce no authoritative doctrines, but advance opinions as embodying their private interpretation of the Scripture. And their hearers are never required to believe them, but are expected to draw their own conclusions from the Bible.
3. Our Savior enjoins and prescribes rules for fasting: "When thou fastest, anoint they head and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast...and thy Father, who seeth in secret, will repay thee."[Matt. vi. 17.]

The Apostles fasted before engaging in sacred functions: "They ministered to the Lord, and fasted."[Acts xiii. 2.] "And when they ordained Priests in every city, they prayed with fasting."[Acts xiv. 22.]

The Church prescribes fasting to the faithful at stated seasons, particularly during Lent.

A Catholic Priest is always fasting when he officiates at the altar. He breaks his fast only after he says Mass. When Bishops ordain Priests they are always fasting, as well as the candidates for ordination.

Protestants have no law prescribing fasts, though some may fast from private devotion. They even try to cast ridicule on fasting as a work of supererogation, detracting from the merits of Christ.

Neither candidates for ordination, nor the ministers who ordain them, ever fast on such occasions.

4. "Let women," says the Apostle, "keep silence in the churches. For, it is not permitted them to speak...It is a shame for a woman to speak in the church."[I. Cor. xiv. 34, 35.] The Catholic Church never permits women to preach in the house of God. Women, especially in this country, publicly preach in Methodist and other churches with the sanction of the church elders.
5. St. Peter and St. John confirmed the newly baptized in Samaria: "They laid hands on them and they received the Holy Ghost."[Acts viii. 17.] Every Catholic Bishop, as a successor of the Apostles, likewise imposes hands on baptized persons in the Sacrament of Confirmation, by which they receive the Holy Ghost. No denomination performs the ceremony of imposing hands in this country except Episcopalians, and even they do not recognize Confirmation as a Sacrament.
6. Our Savior and His Apostles taught that the Eucharist contains the Body and Blood of Christ: "Take ye, and eat; this is My Body. ...Drink ye all of this, for this is my Blood."[Matt. xxvi. 26-28.]

"The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the Blood of Christ; and the bread which we break, is it not the participation of the Body of the Lord?"[I. Cor. x. 16.]

The Catholic Church teaches, with our Lord and His Apostles, that the Eucharist contains really and indeed the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. The Protestant churches (except, perhaps, a few Ritualists) condemn the doctrine of the Real Presence as idolatrous, and say that, in partaking of the communion, we receive only a memorial of Christ.
7. The Apostles were empowered by our Savior to forgive sins: "Whose sins ye shall forgive, they are forgiven."[John xx. 28.]

"God," says St. Paul, "hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation."[II. Cor. v. 18.]

The Bishops and Priests of the Catholic Church, as the inheritors of Apostolic prerogatives, profess to exercise the ministry of reconciliation, and to forgive sins in the name of Christ. Protestants affirm, on the contrary, that God delegates to no man the power of pardoning sin.
8. Regarding the sick, St. James gives this instruction: "Is any man sick among you, let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord."[James v. 14.] One of the most ordinary duties of a Catholic Priest is to anoint the sick in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. If a man is sick among us he is careful to call in the Priest of the Church, that he may anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. No such ceremony as that of anointing the sick is practiced by any Protestant denomination, notwithstanding the Apostle's injunction.
9. Of marriage our Savior says: "Whoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband and be married to another she committeth adultery."[Mark x. 11, 12.]

And again St. Paul says: "To them that are married...the Lord commandeth that the wife depart not from her husband, and if she depart that she remain unmarried... And let not the husband put away his wife."[I. Cor. vii. 10, 11.]

Literally following the Apostle's injunction, the Catholic Church forbids the husband and wife to separate from one another; or, if they separate, neither of them can marry again during the life of the other. The Protestant churches, as is well known, have so far relaxed this rigorous law of the Gospel as to allow divorced persons to remarry.

And divorce a vinculo is granted on various and even trifling pretenses.

10. Our Lord recommends not only by word, but by His example, to souls aiming at perfection, the state of perpetual virginity. St. Paul also exhorts the Corinthians by counsel and his own example to the same angelic virtue: "He that giveth his virgin in marriage," he says, "doeth well. And he that giveth her not doeth better."[I. Cor. vii.] Like the Apostle and his Master, the Catholic clergy bind themselves to a life of perpetual chastity. The inmates of our convents of men and women voluntarily consecrate their virginity to God. All the ministers of other denominations, with very rare exceptions, marry. And far from inculcating the Apostolic counsel of celibacy to any of their flock, they more than insinuate that the virtue of perpetual chastity, though recommended by St. Paul, is impracticable.

We now leave the reader to judge for himself which Church enforces the doctrines of the Apostles in all their pristine vigor.

To show that the Catholic Church is the only lineal descendant of the Apostles it is sufficient to demonstrate that she alone can trace her pedigree, generation after generation, to the Apostles, while the origin of all other Christian communities can be referred to a comparatively modern date.

The most influential Christian sects existing in this country at the present time are the Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. The other Protestant denominations are comparatively insignificant in point of numbers, and are for the most part offshoots from the Christian communities just named.

Martin Luther, a Saxon monk, was the founder of the church which bears his name. He was born at Eisleben, in Saxony, in 1483, and died in 1546.

The Anglican or Episcopal Church owes its origin to Henry VIII of England. The immediate cause of his renunciation of the Roman Church was the refusal of Pope Clement VII to grant him a divorce from his lawful wife, Catherine of Aragon, that he might be free to be joined in wedlock to Anne Boleyn. In order to legalize his divorce from his virtuous queen the licentious monarch divorced himself and his kingdom from the spiritual supremacy of the Pope.

"There is a close relationship," says D'Aubigné, "between these two divorces," meaning Henry's divorce from his wife and England's divorce from the Church. Yes, there is the relationship of cause and effect.

Bishop Short, an Anglican historian, candidly admits that "the existence of the Church of England as a distinct body, and her final separation from Rome, may be dated from the period of the divorce."[History of the Church of England, by Thomas V. Short, Bishop of St. Asaph's, p. 44.]

The Book of Homilies, in the language of fulsome praise, calls Henry "the true and faithful minister," and gives him the credit for having abolished in England the Papal supremacy and established the new order of things.[Book of Homilies.]

John Wesley is the acknowledged founder of the Methodist Church. Methodism dates from the year 1729, and its cradle was the Oxford University in England. John and Charles Wesley were students at Oxford. They gathered around them a number of young men who devoted themselves to the frequent reading of the Holy Scriptures and to prayer. Their methodical and exact mode of life obtained for them the name of Methodists. The Methodist Church in this country is the offspring of a colony sent hither from England.

As it would be tedious to give even a succinct history of each sect, I shall content myself with presenting a tabular statement exhibiting the name and founder of each denomination, the place and date of its origin, and the names of the authors from whom I quote. My authorities in every instance are Protestants.

Name of Sect Place of Origin Founder Year Authority Quoted
Anabaptists Germany Nicolas Stork 1521 Vincent L. Milner, "Religious Denominations"
Baptists Rhode Island Roger Williams 1639 "The Book of Religions," by John Hayward
Free-Will Baptists New Hampshire Benj. Randall 1780 Ibid.
Free Communion Baptists New York Benijah Corp Close of 18th century Rev. A. D. Williams in "History of All Denominations"
Seventh-Day Baptists United States General Conference 1833 W. B. Gillett, Ibid.
Campbellites, or Christians Virginia Alex. Campbell 1813 "Book of Religions"
Methodist Episcopal England John Wesley 1739 Rev. Nathan Bangs in "History of All Denominations"
Reformed Methodist Vermont Branch of the Meth. Episcopal Church 1814 Ibid.
Methodist Society New York Branch of the Meth. Episcopal Church 1820 Rev. W. M. Stillwell, Ibid.
Methodist Protestant Baltimore Branch of the Meth. Episcopal Church 1830 James R. Williams, Ibid.
True Wesleyan Methodist New York Delegates from Methodist denominations 1843 J. Timberman, Ibid.
Presbyterian (Old School) Scotland General Assembly 1560 John M. Krebs, Ibid.
Presbyterian (New School) Philadelphia General Assembly 1840 Joel Parker, D.D., Ibid.
Episcopalian England Henry VIII 1534 Macaulay and other English historians
Lutheran Germany Martin Luther 1524 S. S. Schmucker in "History of All Denominations"
Unita'n Congregationalists Germany Celarius About 1540 Alvan Lamson, Ibid.
Congregationalists England Robert Browne 1583 E. W. Andrews, Ibid.
Quakers England George Fox 1647 English Historians
Quakers America William Penn 1681 American Historians
Catholic Church Jerusalem Jesus Christ 33 New Testament

From this brief historical tableau we find that all the Christian sects now existing in the United States had their origin since the year 1500. Consequently, the old body of Christians among us, outside the Catholic Church, is not yet four centuries old. They all, therefore, come fifteen centuries too late to have any pretensions to be called the Apostolic Church.

But I may be told: "Though our public history as Protestants dates from the Reformation, we can trace our origin back to the Apostles." This I say is impossible. First of all, the very name you bear betrays your recent birth; for who ever heard of a Baptist or an Episcopal, or any other Protestant church, prior to the Reformation? Nor can you say: "We existed in every age as an invisible church." You concealment, indeed, was so complete that no man call tell, to this days, where you lay hid for sixteen centuries. But even if you did exist you could not claim to be the Church of Christ; for our Lord predicted that His Church should ever be as a city placed upon the mountain top, that all might see it, and that its ministers should preach the truths of salvation from the watch-towers thereof, that all might hear them.

It is equally in vain to tell me that you were allied in faith to the various Christian sects that went out from the Catholic Church from age to age; for these sects proclaimed doctrines diametrically opposed to one another, and the true Church must be one in faith. And besides, the less relationship you claim with many of these seceders the better for you, as they all advocated errors against Christian truth, and some of them disseminated principals at variance with decency and morality.

The Catholic Church, on the contrary, can easily vindicate the title of Apostolic, because she derives her origin from the Apostles. Every Priest and Bishop can trace his genealogy to the first disciples of Christ with as much facility as the most remote branch of a vine can be traced to the main stem.

All the Catholic Clergy in the United States, for instance, were ordained only by Bishops who are in active communion with the See of Rome. These Bishops themselves received their commissions from the Bishop of Rome. The present Bishop of Rome, Pius IX, is the successor of Gregory XVI, who succeeded Pius VIII, who was the successor of Leo XII. And thus we go back from century to century till we come to Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, Prince of the Apostles and Vicar of Christ. Like the Evangelist Luke, who traces the genealogy of our Savior back to Adam and to God, we can trace the pedigree of Pius IX to Peter and to Christ. There is not a link wanting in the chain which binds the humblest Priest in the land to the Prince of the Apostles. And although on a few occasions there happened to be two or even three claimants for the chair of Peter, these counter-claims could no more affect the validity of the legitimate Pope than the struggle of two contestants for the Presidency could invalidate the title of the recognized Chief Magistrate.

It was by pursuing this line of argument that the early Fathers demonstrated the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church, and refuted the pretensions of contemporary sectaries. St. Irenaeus, Tertullian and St. Augustine give catalogues of the Bishops of Rome who flourished up to their respective times, with whom it was their happiness to be in communion, and then they challenged their opponents to trace their lineage to the Apostolic See. "Let them," says Tertullian, in the second century, "produce the origin of their church. Let them exhibit the succession of their Bishops, so that the first of them may appear to have been ordained by an Apostle, or by an apostolic man who was in communion with the Apostles."[Lib. de Praescrip., c. 32.]

And if the Fathers of the fifth century considered it a powerful argument in their favor that they could refer to an uninterrupted line of fifty Bishop who occupied the See of Rome, how much stronger is the argument to us who can now exhibit five times that number of Roman Pontiffs who have sat in the chair of Peter! I would affectionately repeat to my separated brethren what Augustine said to the Donatists of his time: "Come to us, brethren if you wish to be engrafted in the vine. We are afflicted in beholding you lying cut off from it. Count over the Bishops from the very See of St. Peter, and mark, in this list of Fathers, how one succeeded the other. This is the rock against which the proud gates of hell do not prevail."[Psal. contra part Donati.]

Previous:IV. Catholicity: That Catholicity is a prominent note of the Church is evident from the Apostles' Creed, which says: "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church."

Next:VI. Perpetuity of the Church: Perpetuity, or duration till the end of time, is one of the most striking marks of the Church.