Questions Asked of Catholics: The True Church

[The following is from Questions Asked by Protestants Briefly Answered by Father M. Philipps, Rector of St. Joseph’s Church, Buffalo, NY. Cabinet of Catholic Information, 1903 Imprimatur: Archbishop John Farley]

What do you mean by the word Church?

By Church we generally mean the society which Christ founded to make known His teachings to mankind. This Church is divided into teachers and people who are taught.

Does the Bible speak of a Church?

Yes, Jesus said: “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church.” Matt. 16:18 St. Paul speaks of “The Church of the living God.” Tim. 3:15 And in Heb. 12:22 he calls it “The Church of the first born.” In Eph. 5:25 he says: “Christ loved His Church.” And Christ compared His Church to a fold of sheep: “There shall be one fold and one shepherd.” John 10:16.

Does the Bible say that Christ founded a Church?

We read in the Bible that, when Christ was about to start His Church, He selected twelve officers or apostles; that Christ commanded these officers to teach others and to make them observe all things that He told them; that Christ gave to His apostles a certain power, as His words indicate: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.” Matt. 28:18. And: “As My Father hath sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21. That Christ appointed a president for His Church and His apostles, when He said to Peter: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.” By rock He meant that Peter should be the foundation, the chief of His Church. Christ also wished that Peter should preside over the apostles and over the whole flock, when He said: “Feed My sheep,” that is: teach My apostles, and: “Feed My lambs,” that is: teach My people. Again He said: “Feed My Lambs, feed My sheep,” that is: teach the whole flock, apostles, bishops, priests and people.

Did this Society or Church really begin to exist?

In the Acts we read that on Pentecost the Apostles began to exercise their mission, the Church prospered and increased, bishops were appointed. When the Apostles died, others took their places, and this Church kept on in its mission for the last 2000 years.

How do you prove that this Church always existed since the days of Christ?

This is proved:

1. By the history and documents of the Church relating to its rulers; by its events in every century and in every year since the days of Christ.

2. By the uninterrupted succession of popes and bishops who ruled the Church since the days of Christ.

3. By the succession of the fathers and doctors of the Church, who defended and explained the teachings of Christ in every century to the present day.

4. By the general and particular councils during the last 2000 years, in which errors of faith and discipline were corrected and the genuine teaching of Christ maintained.

I cannot see from the Bible that Christ gave a special power of supremacy to Peter.

Did not Christ say to Peter: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church?” Did Christ not say to Peter: “Peter, feed My lambs, feed My sheep,” is to teach the whole Church, priest and people? Did not Christ say to Peter: “To thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, whatever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven?”

Does the Bible say that St. Peter was the chief of the apostles and exercised supremacy over them?

St. Peter presided over the election of Mathias. He was the first to address the assembled multitude after the descent of the Holy Ghost. He spoke in the name of all the apostles before the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem. He presided over the first council of the Church. Acts 15:7. St. Paul consulted Peter about certain practices, and the history of the early days of Christianity tells us that after Christ, Peter was considered the chief leader and teacher of the Church.

How do you prove that the Catholic Church is the right Church? The Catholic Church alone was started by Christ and existed the last 2000 years. The Catholic Church alone has never changed Her teachings, all her members believe in one and the same truth. The Catholic Church alone has saints through whom God has wrought true wonders, as related in the lives of the saints. The Catholic Church alone is spread all over the world and comprises not only one or two countries, but all nations. The Catholic Church alone maintains and teaches not only a part, but the whole genuine truth preached by Christ. The Catholic Church alone can historically prove an unbroken succession of rulers, popes and bishops since the days of Christ. The Catholic Church is the only society that during 2000 years faced all storms of dissensions, schisms, paganism, persecutions and still is as full of vigor as on the day of Pentecost.

How do you prove that none of the denominations outside the Catholic Church can be the true Church?

1. Because none of these denominations was founded by Christ, but all were started by the individual opinion of some men.

2. Because in all other denominations the tenets of faith are altered, changed and revised according to the notions of some individuals. Christ’s teaching cannot be altered.

3. Because other denominations possess only fragments of Christ’s teaching, not the whole truth; some believe in baptism, others do not; some believe in communion, others do not, etc.

4. Because some of the denominations have existed only during the last 50 or 100 years, and certainly the Church of Christ was not hidden during the other 1900 years.

5. Because some of the denominations exist only in one or two countries of the world, and certainly the true Church of Christ should exist all over the world, as far as possible, because Christ wants all men to be saved.

6. Because these denominations have no more the teachings of the apostles and of the first Christians. They claim to follow the Bible, but they explain the Bible to suit their own opinions.

Does the Bible say that we should submit our opinion to the Church? St. Paul says: “Obey your prelates, and be subject to them.”Heb. 13:17. Jesus said to the apostles: “Going therefore, teach all nations….Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”Matt. 28:18,19. “He that heareth you, heareth Me, and he that contemneth you, contemneth Me.”Luke 10:16. If we are to hear the Church and observe Her teaching and not to contemn Her, and if Christ is with Her forever, certainly we should submit our opinion to the Church.

But this submission checks investigation and freedom of human thought. Everybody should investigate the truths of the Church, its reasons, its meanings, and its history; but when they meet truths hard to understand, they should ask the opinion of the Church, who received it from Christ the command to teach and to explain the truth.

Have I not as much right to my opinion as another has to his? As long as a fact admits of different opinions you have a right to your opinion, but if a truth is once explained and decided by a competent authority like the Church, then you must submit. Children, insane and criminals all claim to have a right to their opinions; would you claim that they are always right, because they have a right to their opinion?

Christ should have given us a certainty about His doctrine so that no opposing opinions and no misunderstandings could come up. Christ did give us a certainty and an infallible teacher about His doctrine. He provided, that in case of doubt, someone should be able to explain it with perfect certainty.

Is the Bible this infallible teacher? No, because many texts in the Bible need explanation, many things in the Bible are hard to understand, and the 200 different denominations who all draw their belief from the Bible and contradict each other, is proof that the Bible is not the infallible teacher.

To whom did Christ principally give the infallibility to teach the word of God without error? To St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, and to his successors.

Does the Bible say that St. Peter was infallible in teaching? In Luke 22:31, Christ said to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that they faith fail not; and thou being converted, confirm thy brethren.” In Mat. 16:17, Jesus said to Peter: “Blessed art thou, Simon bar Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is in heaven, and I say to thee: that thou art Peter (rock) and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and I give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed in heaven.” This proves that Peter was strengthened by Christ that his faith may not fail, that he should strengthen the faith of his brethren, that Christ confided His Church to Peter as on a rock that will never be shaken by false teachings or by the gates of hell. In John 21:15, Christ said to Peter: “Feed My lambs….feed My sheep,” which means to teach the whole Church. If Peter was charged to teach the whole Church he must have been able to teach without error, or else we could not be obliged to believe whatever he taught. The fact that the Church in the last 2000 years taught the same unchangeable doctrine, is proof that her leaders never erred in matters of faith.

How could Peter be infallible if he swore he knew not Christ?

Infallibility does not mean impeccability. St. Peter was infallible in teaching matters of faith and morals, but he was not free from committing sin. Furthermore, when Peter denied Christ, he had not yet received the Holy Ghost, Who was to preserve him free from error in teaching the Church, and Christ had not yet give him charge over His flock.

What does the teaching ex cathedra mean?

It means when the Pope teaches doctrines of faith and morals which are to be accepted by the whole world. The Pope’s private conversations, etc., are not infallible teachings.

Infallibility creates ignorance, because people stop investigating the truth.

Contrary, by accepting infallibility, people investigate on a solid basis and in the light; without an infallible guide, people investigate in the dark. Protestantism has investigated during the last five hundred years, and the result is that there are about 200 different denominations, each claiming to be right, and all contradicting each other.

But formerly Catholics did not believe in the infallibility of the Pope, and now they do.

Formerly the infallibility of the Pope was not publicly declared an article of faith, nevertheless, the Popes were always infallible. The infallibility of the Pope is, therefore, not a new doctrine, but a clearer definition of an existing truth.

But some Popes were sinful men.

Infallibility does not consist in exemption from sin.

I grant that Peter was infallible, but I do not believe that his successors, the Popes, are infallible.

The infallibility of St. Peter must last in the Church to the end of the world, as long as souls need to be taught correctly, and as long as Christ’s teachings have to be preserved free from error. It would have been unjust, if Christ had provided the first Christians with an infallible teacher, and left all the succeeding generations at the mercy of erring opinions. Moreover, Christ promised that He would send to His Church the spirit of truth that would abide with Her forever. John 14:16,17.

How many Popes governed the Catholic Church since the days of St. Peter? About two hundred sixty-five.

Did not the Catholic Church fall into superstition and idolatry about the year 1500?

The Catholic Church did not fall into superstition or idolatry; Her history and Her articles of faith prove that at the time of the reformation She taught the same doctrine as She does now and as She did in the very days of the apostles and first Christians.

Were there not many abuses in the Catholic Church at the time of the reformation? Abuses of individual members exist in every church. Christ compared His Church to a net, wherein there are good and bad fishes. The Church never approved of the abuses of these individuals, and with right they were excommunicated from the Church.

Have the Protestant denominations the same teaching as the first Christians had? The first Christians believed in baptism necessary to salvation, many denominations today do not believe in it. The first Christians believed in the necessity of confessing their sins to the priest, all the sects today do not believe in it. The first Christians believed that in Communion they received the real Body of Jesus Christ, all the sects today believe that they receive ordinary bread. The first Christians believed in praying for the dead, the sects today do not believe in it, etc.

What does it prove if a denomination revises its tenets of faith? It proves that its former tenet was wrong, or if the former tenet was right, the revised one is wrong. The true tenet of faith that Christ and the apostles gave us, cannot be revised or changed. Matters of faith necessary for salvation, are always true and cannot be changed. Disciplinary matters, however, accept changes according to circumstances.

But does not the Catholic Church bring up new articles of faith? She does occasionally define matters of faith, but these truths existed in the Church from the beginning. In disciplinary matters, of course, new laws can be made or revoked according to circumstances.