"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Where is the true Church?
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The pride of the heretics makes them presume that they know the true faith, and that the Catholic Church is in error, but here is the mistake: our reason is not sufficient to tell us the true faith, since the truths of Divine Faith are above reason; we should, therefore, hold by that faith which God has revealed to his Church, and which the Church teaches, which is, as the Apostles says, "the pillar and the ground of truth" (1 Tim 3:15). Hence, as St. Irenaeus says, "It is necessary that all should depend on the Roman Church as their head and fountain; all Churches should agree with this Church on account of her priority of principality, for there the traditions delivered by the Apostles have always been preserved" (St. Irenaeus Against Heresies Bk 3, chpt 3); and by the tradition derived from the Apostles, which the Church founded at Rome preserves, and the Faith preserved by the succession of the Bishops, we confound those who through blindness or an evil conscience draw false conclusions (Ibid.) "Do you wish to know," says St. Augustin, "which is the Church of Christ? Count those priests who, in a regular succession, have succeeded St. Peter, who is the Rock, against which the gates of hell will not prevail" (St. Aug. in Ps. contra part. Donat.): and the holy Doctor alleges as one of the reasons which detain him in the Catholic Church, ["]the succession of Bishops to the present time in the See of St. Peter" (Epis. fund. c. 4, n. 5); for in truth the uninterrupted succession from the Apostles and disciples is characteristic of the Catholic Church and of no other.
It was the will of the Almighty that the Church in which the true faith was preserved should be one, that all the faithful might profess the one faith, but the devil, St. Cyprian says, invented heresies to destroy faith, and divide unity. The enemy has caused mankind to establish many different churches, so that each, following the faith of his own particular one, in opposition to that of others, the truth faith might be confused, and as many false faiths formed as there are different churches, or rather different individuals. This is especially the case in England where we see as many religions as families, and even families themselves divided in faith, each individual following his own. St. Cyprian, then, justly says that God has disposed that the true faith should be preserved in the Roman Church alone, so that there being but one Church there should be but one faith and one doctrine for all the faithful. St. Optatus Milevitanus, writing to Parmenianus, says, also: "You cannot be ignorant that the Episcopal Chair of St. Peter was first placed in the city of Rome, in which one chair unity is observed by all" (St. Opt. l.2, cont. Parmen.)
The heretics, too, boast of the unity of their Churches, but St. Augustin says that it is unity against unity. "What unity," says the Saint, "can all those Churches have which are divided from the Catholic Church, which is the only true one; they are but as so many useless branches cut off from the Vine, the Catholic Church, which is always firmly rooted. This is the One, Holy, True, and Catholic Church, opposing all heresies; it may be opposed, but cannot be conquered. All heresies come forth from it, like useless shoots cut off from the vine, but it still remains firmly rooted in charity, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (St. Aug. lib. 1, de Symbol. ad Cath. c.6). St. Jerome says that the very fact of the heretics forming a church apart from the Roman Church is a proof, of itself, that they are followers of error, and disciples of the devil, described by the Apostles as "giving heed to spirits of error and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. iv. 1)
The Lutherans and Calvinists say, just as the Donatists did before them, that the Catholic Church preserved the true faith down to a certain period -- some say to the third, some to the fourth, some to the fifth century -- but that after that the true doctrine was corrupted, and the spouse of Christ became an adulteress. This supposition, however, refutes itself; for, granting that the Roman Catholic Church was the Church first founded by Christ, it could never fail, for our Saviour himself promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. xviii. 18). It being certain, then, that the Roman Catholic Church was the true one, as Gerard, one of the first ministers of Luther, admits (Gerard de Eccles. cap. 11, sec 6) it to have been for the first five hundred years, and to have preserved the Apostolic doctrine during that period, it follows that it must always have remained so, for the spouse of Christ, as St. Cyprian says, could never become an adulteress.
The heretics, however, who, instead of learning from the Church the dogmas they should believe, wish to teach her false and perverse dogmas of their own, say that they have the Scriptures on their side, which are the fountain of truth, not considering, as a learned author justly remarks, that it is not by reading, but by understanding, them, that the truth can be found. Heretics of every sort avail themselves of the Scriptures to prove their errors, but we should not interpret the Scripture according to our own private opinions, which frequently lead us astray, but according to the teaching of the Holy Church which is appointed the Mistress of true doctrine, and to whom God has manifested the true sense of the Divine books. This is the Church, as the Apostle tells us, which has been appointed the pillar and the ground of truth: "that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of truth." (1 Tim. iii. 15) Hence St. Leo says, that the Catholic faith despises the errors of heretics barking against the Church, who, deceived by the vanity of worldly wisdom, have departed from the truth of the Gospel. --(St. Leo. Ser. 8 de Nat. Dim.)
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- St. Alphonsus Liguori in the preface to his The History of Heresies, published in 1857