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At a seminar, a man stood up during the question period. "What is the name of Christ's church according to the New Testament?" he asked.

"What do you mean?" was the reply. Our speaker thought the man was going to note the Bible doesn't use the term "Roman Catholic Church."

"Would you say the name of the church is the Church of Christ?""Naturally, Christ' church could be called the Chruch of Christ since it's Christ's Church."

"Well," said the questioner, "I'm a former Catholic. Now I'm a minister in the Church of Christ [a Protestant denomination],
which meets down the street. You can tell from our name that ours must be the church Christ founded."

Not surprisingly, our speaker didn't quite know what to say, except that he wasn't impressed with this logic. He was tempted to ask, but didn't: "If we Catholics change the name of our church to `the Chruch of Christ,' would you then say that ours is the church Christ founded?"

If we can't tell from the names alone which of the hundreds of Christian churches is the one established by Christ, how can we tell? Only by examining a church's credentials. The credentials
that the Catholic Church has to offer are its four mark.

There are two aspects to a mark:

First, it must be an outwardly visible sign. If it's not, it's useless as a means of identification. Your house number is
useful only because it's on the outside of your house and visible from the street. If it were posted on a wall of the living room, it wouldn't be a sign that this is your house. In short, a mark must be evident to everyone. It can't hide under the bushel basket. That's the first requirement.

The seconcd is that the mark must be an essential characteristic, one without which the Church couldn't even be. Marks of the Church don't exist only as a means of identification, as does a watermark on paper, but must be parts of the very nature of the Church. Infallibility, which is an essential characteristic of the Church, is not visible, so it's not a mark. Miracles, which are visible characteristics, are not essential, so they aren't marks either. But unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity are both visible and essential, and they're the four marks of the


Before we go further, let's keep in mind the wrong method of discussing the marks. This kind of syllogism is no good at all:"If God founded a church,it would have to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. In fact, the Catholic Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Therefore it's the church Christ founded." First, it isn't evident from the mere stating that the Church would have to have these four characteristics. Second, this syllogism doesn't prove that some other church couldn't share them. The most it proves is that if Christ founded a church, and if that church still exists, and if no other church has these four marks,
then the Catholic Church is that church.

A better, but still inadequate, argument is this: "Our Lord said his Church would be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The
Catholic Church is precisely that, so it must be his Church." The problem here is that you'd find yourself bickering over every scriptural passage you educe as proof: "Where does Christ say the Church must be `one," or `holy,' or `catholic' [a word not used in the New Testament for the Church] or `apostolic' [another absent
word]?" Besides, this kind of argument can appeal to Christians only. The Church's task, though, is to convert all men, so the marks must be able to convince even non-Christians.


Although we've identified the marks, we still haven't identified the method to be used to discuss them.

The right method of argumentation is this. Begin with the
Catholic Chruch as a fact. It exists, after all, as even its most virulent opponents acknowledge. (If it didn't exist, they wouldn't bother opposing it, right?) Then take the four marks as facts which are known (or knowable) by all, even if they aren't fully (or at all) realized. Show what these marks prove.

First, describe the marks as graphically as possible. It isn't enough just to give their names. That won't convince anyone.
When you talk to a non-Catholic about the unity or catholicity of the Church, give him a mental picture of what you mean. Give concrete examples so he can begin to understand what you're talking

Do the same kind of thing for holiness. We're not talking here about peering into men's consciences. You can't do that, and
it's not required anyhow. Talk about the holy doctrine of the Church (it's tough, demanding, and higher than that of other
churches -- take HUMANAE VITAE as an example of heights to which other churches don't even aspire; this papal encyclical explains why we're called to a higher morality that includes not using
contraception), about the Church having the means of holiness (the sacraments), and about the saints (only in the Church is found a plenitude of extreme holiness).

When you come to apostolicity, use the historically unbroken descent and use Rome as the central peg. Illustrate the missionary work of the Church (in all ages, not just since the nineteenth
century, as with Protestant chruches).

If you have described the marks well, there won't be any question about their existence. Then you have to show what their existence proves.


Look again at unity and catholicity, which can be considered together. The key here is miracles, because these marks are
miracles. They can't be accounted for any other way.

The Church has been unified throughout the centuries, teaching one doctrine. True, individuals Christians have lost that unity, going this way and that, sometimes doing so corporately in the form of sects that split off from the Church. But the Church itself has always remained one, no matter how many have left its unity.

(Side note: It's proper to pray for the unity of Christians, but not for the unity of the Catholic Church. The Church always
has been unified -- that is, one. To pray for its unity, as though it were broken into several branches, is, strictly speaking, heretical. To pray for the unity of Christian chruches -- which ultimately means their reunion with the already-unified Catholic Church -- is perfectly proper.)


The catholicity of the Church is something that is naturally inexplicable. During nineteen centuries, if the Catholic Church
hadn't been protected miraculously by God, it should have fallen apart, disappeared even, any number of times.

It should have been stopped before it could spread far. You can't account for its duration and extent by pointing to
politically clever popes, for the simple reason that many popes have been, politically, dumb. When speaking with a non-Catholic, make him see how super-human the unity and catholicity of the
Church must be. (If he is a Protestant, remind him of Matthew 16:19, Matthew 28:20, and John 14:16.)

Now turn to apostolicity. This shows that today's Church is one with the Church of the apostles. Trace apostolic succession
backwards to give your listener an idea of what it is -- and what it isn't. It isn't necessary to be able to trace every bishop's consecration back to the apostles. You don't need to produce
something like a flow chart or corporate organization outline. What is needed is a moral certainty, which is shown in part by gaps being filled in, in part by the absence of countervailing information. (For instance, if Bishop B wasn't a legitimate successor to Bishop A, where are the records of complaint?) Unlike
the other marks, apostolicity will appeal mainly to other Christians.


The last mark you will turn to will be holiness. Demonstrate that the outwardly manifested holiness of its members argues to the inward holiness of the Church, that the Church is the source of all holiness.

Note that you will have made no use of the New Testament so far, for the very good reason that the Church existed before any part of the New Testament was written, and so did the marks of the
Church. The marks aren't dependent on the New Testament, and they can't be proved from it, though they can be demonstrated from it.

Although the marks themselves will be sufficient proof for the atheist, with "Bible Christians" it may be useful, as a concession, to end with scriptural references, but never should you begin with them. If you do, you'll end up squabbling about the meaning of each text -- something that can be avoided if the meaning of the marks is first made clear.

P.O. BOX 17181

Published with ecclesiastical permission.

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