This article was originally published in the Michael Journal No. 427 (October-December 2023)
It is always important to return to the basics of the Faith and understand what is necessary for salvation. Many children and adults have either forgotten or never knew the answers. The following text is taken from the “My Catholic Faith”, a catechism written in 1949 by Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow, Bishop of Krishnagar, Philippines, from 1939 to 1969:
Did Jesus Christ found a Church? — Yes; all history, religious and non-religious, including the Bible, clearly proves that Jesus Christ founded a Church.
1. After teaching publicly what He required all to believe and practice, thereby announcing the main doctrines of His Church, Christ gathered a number of disciples. From them He chose twelve, to whom He gave special instruction and training.
The term “a kingdom”, by which Our Lord used to refer to His Church, implies organized authority. And He said to the special men He had chosen, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16). He did not teach the disciples for themselves alone, but to be the foundation of His Church. God did not come to save only a few disciples, but all men.
2. Christ said to the men He had chosen: “As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21), bidding them go and preach the doctrines He had taught. He sent them to all nations, promising salvation to those that should believe, and threatening condemnation to those refusing to believe.
“He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). God is just; He would not have threatened condemnation to unbelievers unless He had furnished the means whereby they could believe. His Church is this means; all men must join it.
3. Not only did the men chosen by Christ have authority; He gave them extraordinary powers, particularly the twelve special men, the Apostles.
“Then having summoned his twelve disciples, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every kind of disease and infirmity” (Matt. 10:1).
a. They had power to sanctify, when Christ bade them: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
b. They had power to forgive sin, when Christ said to them: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them” (John 20:23).
c. They had power to rule when Christ said: “He who hears you hears me; and he who rejects you rejects me; and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). And: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).
d. They had power to offer sacrifice, when at the Last Supper Christ, after instituting the Eucharist, bade them: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25).
4. After training the disciples and Apostles to form the organization of His Church, Christ chose Simon Peter, and made him the Chief. Simon, whose name Christ changed to Peter, was the Head of the Church.
On Simon Christ promised to build His Church, saying: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18). After the Resurrection He confirmed Peter’s authority over the Church, saying to him: “Feed my lambs; feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
5. Finally, He promised to remain for all time with the Church He established.
If the death of Our Lord were to do good only to a few persons then living in Judea, its merits would have been very limited. But it could do good to future generations only if there were an organization with authority to carry on His teachings and preserve them from all change. This is His Church.
Why did Jesus Christ found the Church? — Jesus Christ founded the Church to bring all men to eternal salvation. Our Lord Jesus Christ established the Church in order to lead men to heaven by:
a. Continuing His teaching and example; and
b. Applying the fruits of His Sacrifice on the cross to all men until the end of the world.
Our Lord gave to the Church a three-fold office: the office of teacher, the office of priest or sanctifier, and the office of pastor or ruler. By these offices Christ intended His Church to accomplish the purpose for which He founded it.
2. After Pentecost Sunday, the Apostles began to carry out their mission of making disciples of all nations. Through them and their successors, this mission continues and will continue to the end of the world.
On the first Pentecost about three thousand were received into the Church after St. Peter’s sermon. They were the first members converted and baptized since the Ascension of Our Lord.
Was the Church founded by Christ a visible organization? —
The Church founded by Christ was a visible organization, with certain distinguishing marks.
1. No one can deny that Jesus Christ gathered disciples, and out of them chose twelve Apostles, to whom He gave special instruction and orders. He formed them as the foundation of His organization; was this not visible?
Speaking of a stubborn man, He said: “If he refuse to hear even the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen” (Matt. 18:17). And He promised His disciples: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). Surely something must be visible to bind and loose, to be heard and obeyed. And Christ referred to this visible organization as a city set on a mountain that cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:14).
2. From the very beginning, the Apostles exercised their authority and powers; these were signs of a very visible organization. They did not advise; they directed, as superiors, and decided, as judges. Thus St. Paul excommunicated the sinful Corinthian; and he commanded the Hebrews: “Obey your superiors, and be subject to them” (Heb. 13: 17).
3. The Apostles and Fathers condemned schism. This fact implies a visible organization; for how can there be schism against an invisible body? St. Paul urged the Corinthians: “By the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ… that there be no dissensions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). And St. Cyprian in the third century wrote: “Whoever is separated from the Church is separated from the promises of Christ… One cannot have God as a Father who has not the Church as his mother.”
The Apostles: First Bishops of the Church
To whom did Christ give the power to teach, to sanctify, and to rule the members of His Church? — Christ gave the power to teach, to sanctify, and to rule the members of His Church to the Apostles, the first bishops of the Church.
1. St. Peter was the first Head. After a miraculous escape from prison in Jerusalem, he founded his See in Antioch; here the followers of Christ were first called Christians. Peter made frequent missionary journeys through Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Asia Minor, and probably even Greece. He finally fixed his See at Rome. St. Peter presided at the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem in the year 50 A. D. At the same time that St. Paul was beheaded, St. Peter was crucified head downwards, on Vatican Hill, Rome, 67 A. D.
Did Christ intend that this power should be exercised by the Apostles alone? — No, Christ intended that this power should be exercized also by their successors, the bishops of the Church.
1. The Apostles first preached in Judea on the very first Christian Pentecost. Then they dispersed throughout the different countries of the then known world. Everywhere they preached, baptized, and ruled the Christian communities. They were the first bishops of the Church. “As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21).
2. The Apostles chose men to assist them, imparting to them greater or less powers. Before leaving a place, they chose a successor with full powers (Acts 14:22). Those who received only a small part of the powers of the Apostles were called deacons. Those given greater power were the priests. Those appointed successors to rule in the place of the Apostles were the bishops.
3. Christ had given the Apostles full powers to choose successors, when He gave them the powers His Father had given Him (John 20:21) It was His wish that the Apostles should have successors to continue the Church, which He said would last till the end of the world (Matt. 28:20). Without successors to the Apostles, the Church would have no rulers, and being unorganized would never have lasted.
The sole true Church
In August, 2000, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI), issued a declaration, approved by Pope John Paul II, explaining the Roman Catholic dogma that the Catholic Church is the sole true Church founded by Jesus Christ. Here is what is written in Paragraphs 16 and 17:
The Lord Jesus, the only Saviour, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: He himself is in the Church and the Church is in Him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). Therefore, the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord. Indeed, Jesus Christ continues His presence and His work of salvation in the Church and by means of the Church (cf. Col 1:24-27),47 which is His body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27; Col 1:18).48 And thus, just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute a single “whole Christ”. This same inseparability is also expressed in the New Testament by the analogy of the Church as the Bride of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-29; Rev 21:2,9).
Therefore, in connection with the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus Christ, the unicity of the Church founded by Him must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith. Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church”. Furthermore, the promises of the Lord that He would not abandon His Church (cf. Mt 16:18; 28:20) and that He would guide her by His Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13) mean, according to Catholic faith, that the unicity and the unity of the Church — like everything that belongs to the Church’s integrity — will never be lacking.
The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity—rooted in the apostolic succession — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ… which our Saviour, after His resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Mt 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15).
This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”, that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.
Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.
On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.
“The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”. In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities”.
“Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.