ORIGIN OF THE CHURCH
In this short treatise, we will try to explain the origin of the Church, both historically and Biblically. Through use of the writings of the fathers of the Church, the Sacred Scriptures, and just plain common sense, we will take a step by step approach to this important subject. We will first show how the Bible is the book of the Catholic Church, while all other Christian denominations are Churches of the Book! Our next step will then be to show how the Church was founded by Jesus Christ and has since grown into the structure we know and recognize today as the Catholic Church. Third, we plan to show the divine command given it by our Lord to promulgate all of His teachings throughout the whole world from Sacred Scripture itself.
Before we discuss the "origin of the Church," we must first explain the "Origin of the Bible." The question always arises in respect to the Church (the "Church" in this treatise will always refer to the Catholic Church, unless otherwise noted) "Where can you find that in the Bible?". Therefore, we will address this issue first.
It is a historical fact that the Church at the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D., through the influence of St. Augustine, settled the Canon (or collection) of New Testament Scriptures. This decision was sent to Rome to be ratified by the Pope, and it was thus becoming binding on all Catholics. From that day forward we see all Christians adhering to the same canon for New Testament writings. Why did I bring up this point? Simply because 397 A.D. is approximately 367 years after the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thus the Church had been established and growing rapidly despite a unified canon of Scripture!! Sure there were various books and manuscripts floating around, and indeed, some were being read at Mass, but there were also spurious writings that did not make the canon, and yet some held they were Apostolic. And we need to remember that the first 400 years after Christ are not the same as today. The literacy rate among adults in those times was abysmal. Few adults could read, let alone write. As a result of this problem, the Church had to proclaim the Gospel orally from the pulpits. And the Church grew in spite of the fact that few could practice the ‘private interpretation' so prevalent in today's ‘new' churches.
There were numerous ‘Gospels' and ‘Acts' making their rounds in those days. The "Acts of Peter," the "Acts of Paul," The Gospel of Thomas," are some of those that laid claim to inspiration. When the Church saw these "pseudo-Gospels" being read at the Liturgy, they knew something had to be done. So they called a meeting of all the church leaders to decide the issue. As I said before this ‘meeting' or "council," met at Carthage, and it is from this council that the New Testament Canon, as we have it today, came about! Thus you can see how the Bible is really the Book of the Church, it was written in the Church, for the members of the Church, and then ratified by the Church. Meanwhile all Christian denominations that have arisen since then (25,000 at last count) are churches of the Book. In other words, if these other denominations have accepted the Church's decision in a matter as serious as the canon of Scripture, why have they disregarded the other teachings of doctrine that was clearly being taught by that same Church. Why do they ‘pick and choose' the teachings they want to accept and the ones they choose to reject? Jesus told the Apostles "teach them to carry out everything that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:20). Therefore, when someone asks me "Where do find that in the Bible?", I respond, "How do you know that the Bible you have, contains all the right books, and no wrong ones?" The fact is, he or she doesn't know, without the authority of the Church.
Where did this ‘Church' begin? Where did the Church derive her authority? How has that authority come down to us to this day? Before we get to those questions, let us explain what we understand the Church to be.
"Christians of the first centuries said "The world was created for the Church (Shepherd of Hermas 140 A.D.)" God created the world for the sake of communion with His divine life, a communion brought about by the ‘convocation' of men in Christ and this ‘convocation' is the Church." (The Catechism of the Catholic Church #760)
"It was the Son's task to accomplish the Father's plan of salvation in the fullness of time. Its accomplishment was the reason for His being sent. The Lord Jesus inaugurated His Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures. To fulfill the Father's will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church is the Reign of Christ already present on earth" (CCC #763)
"Because the Church is a continuation of the Incarnation of Christ, it shares in the characteristics of the Incarnation. It has, therefore, a human and divine element, a visible and an invisible element. It is so closely associated with Christ that it can be truly be called the bride of Christ, and His mystical body. The Holy Spirit animates the body of the Church invisibly with the divine life that is the life of grace, imparted to the members of the Church through their head, Jesus Christ. Yet, in the Church this invisible life is not independent of the visible and exterior structure of the Church as a society made of men. It was Christ's will and institution that the Church carry on his work as a visible organized society, like a city set upon a mountain, since it was to be a necessary means for salvation for all men. For this reason, he gave it a visible supreme head and hierarchical government. Moreover, Christ promised these rulers (St. Peter and the Apostles, and their successors: the Roman Pontiff and the bishops throughout the world) his efficacious and perpetual assistance in carrying out his work of teaching the revealed truth unerringly, of ruling wisely, and of sanctifying effectively." (The Church Teaches: pp 67; Tan)
There you have it in a nutshell. Now we let us answer those three questions asked above.
Where did this Church begin?? "The Church is born primarily of Christ's total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross. ‘The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus.' ‘For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church'. As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam's side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross'" (CCC # 766)
It was on Pentecost Sunday that the Church then became a visible society. The Holy Spirit came upon them, Peter preached the first sermon, and 3,000 were baptized that day (Acts 2:1ff). Its visible aspect is evident in the book of Acts. Acts 4:5 "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had"(emphases mine). In Acts 6, we see the Apostles electing deacons (note the hierarchy already evident)and they were ordained by the Apostles. This visibility is also evident in Pauls writings. In Galatians 1, he says he went up and stayed with Peter, and Peter alone. Why only Peter? Because Peter was the acknowledged head of the Church, the keeper of the keys to the kingdom, with the power to bin and loose authoritatively. But, you might ask, where did Peters authority come from? For that answer we will delve into the Gospels to see what nuggets we uncover.
In Matt 16:16-19, we see Jesus promising Simon Peter "The keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven"(see Isaiah 22:19ff for a clearer understanding of this passage). Note that this is the promise, not the institution. The institution occurs in John 21:15-17. Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep. Three times he says to Peter "Feed my Sheep." The Greek words used show that Peter was to "tend (as a shepherd) my lambs," "pasture my sheep," and "tend my sheep." Who, may I ask, are Christ's sheep? Are they not the worldwide body of believers?
Another verse to take note of is Luke 22:31-32: "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you (singular), that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brethren." Notice that Satan wishes to sift all the Apostles like wheat, yet Jesus says he'll only pray for Peter "so your faith may not fail," why? Was it not because Jesus had given Peter the keys? Was it not that Peter was to feed his sheep? If not, what was it??
There we have Peter set up as ‘keeper of the keys', but what of this ‘authority' thing, where does that come from? In Luke 10:16, Jesus says to the Apostles "He who hears you hears me." Jesus puts on par the teaching of the Apostles with his own teaching, now that's authority!! In Matt 18:15-18, we see Jesus telling us that if we have a disagreement with another ‘brother', "take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or more witnesses." But what if he won't listen, what do you do? Jesus says in verse 18 "you take him to the Church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." How's that for authority? If you don't listen "EVEN to the church" then excommunicate him!
other verses that teach obedience to the Church; Heb 13:17, "Obey
your prelates and be subject to them"; Acts 20:28 "Be
shepherds of the church of God"; 2Cor10:8 "For even if I
boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us . . . ";
Romans 1:5 "Through him and for his names sake, we received
grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to
the obedience that comes from faith."
How about the fathers of the Church, how did they live the Gospel in this Church? St. Ignatius of Antioch (circa 107 A.D.) "Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the Apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was from the Father in the beginning and is at last made manifest"(letter to the Magnesians). St. Irenaeus (circa 185 A.D.) writes "As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same."(Against Heresies 1,10,2). These quotations could be multiplied but why, they are all of the same fabric, i.e., obedience to the Church is obedience to Christ.
Now, finally, how has the Church come down to us? Let St. Irenaeus say it "But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions in all the Churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness or wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, that Church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all the Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her that the faithful have maintained the Apostolic tradition"
"The blessed Apostles (Peter & Paul), having founded and built up the Church (of Rome), they handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus. Paul makes mention of this Linus in the Epistle to Timothy. To him succeeded Anancletus; and after him, in the third place from the Apostles, Clement was chosen for the episcopate. He had seen the blessed Apostles and was acquainted with them. It might be said that he still heard the echoes of the preaching of the Apostles, and had their traditions before his eyes." Iranaeus continues to list the succession of Bishops of Rome to his present day!! (Against Heresies 3,3,2-3)
So the succession has continued down to our present day. A list of popes (the bishop of Rome) can be found in any library, and you can trace this line all the way back to Christ. This ‘succession' is also taught in the Scriptures. Acts 1:20, the replacement of Judas, along with various citations of the Pauline passages show the laying on of hands as passing on the power of authority: 1 Tim 2:2, Titus 1:5 are two examples.
In conclusion, we can see that the Catholic Church has evidence, both Biblical and historical that vouches for the validity of her claim to be the true Church of Jesus Christ. No other Christian church can lay claim to be the church of Christ. For in each case, their line of succession disappears as you go back in history. Whether it's the 1800's for the Mormons and JWs', or the 1600 for the Presbyterians and Calvinists, or the year 1,000 for the Orthodox churches, none go all the way back to the Apostles and to Christ. Therefore, since they don't go back to Christ, how can they claim to be his church??
It's unfortunate that this treatise is so short. We could go on to make this a book. The subjects treated here have only been given the minimal treatment. If there are any questions, or if anything has not been explained properly, feel free to ask. If you choose, I could treat any of these subjects on an individual basis, thus going into more detail than has been done here. May God bless you