INDEFECTIBILITY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Catholic Church will endure to the end of time, for it is founded on a rock. The powers of evil will beat in vain against it. They will break themselves and perish, but the Church will remain, indefectible. The testimony of almost two thousand years proves the perpetuity of the Church. Nothing that malice and envy could invent; nothing that the world, the flesh; and the devil could do have been left untried in the past 1900 years. Still the Church is with us, exactly as Christ founded it, and stronger than ever.
69. Indefectibility of the Church
- Christ meant His Church to endure to the end of the world. It is to be indestructible and unchanging,-to possess indefectibility. Christ, God Himself, could scarcely have come, and with such incredible pain and labor have founded a Church which would die with the Apostles.
He came to save all men. Those to live in future ages needed salvation as much as the people of Apostolic times.
- Christ said to Peter: “Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). By the “gates of hell”, He meant all the power of the devil-all kinds of attacks, physical violence as well as false teaching.
Christ promises here that the Church would be assailed always, but never overcome. This promise of Our Lord has been proved for almost 2000 years by the facts of history. Not one of the persecutors of the Church has prevailed over it. On the contrary, many of them have come to a fearful end. There will always be Popes, bishops, and laity, to Compose the Church; the truths taught by Our Lord will always be found in His Church.
- After telling His Apostles to teach, all nations, Christ said: “Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20).
As the Apostles were not to live to the end of the world, Christ must have been addressing them as representatives of a perpetual Church.
- The Apostles themselves understood Christ to mean that His Church should endure. After organizing Christian communities, they appointed successors in their place, to live after them and carry on the Church.
The Apostles instructed these successors to ordain in turn other bishops and priests. All these acts were to assure the perpetuity of the Church.
- Christ intended the Church to remain as He founded it, to preserve the whole of what He taught, and the shining marks which He gave it in the beginning. If the Church lost any of the qualities that God gave it, it could not be said to be indefectible, because it would not be the same institution. Indefectibility implies unchangeability.
Our Lord promised to abide by the Church, to assist it, and to send the Holy Ghost to remain in it. God does not change: “Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20).
- Because of its indefectibility the truths revealed by God will always be taught in the Catholic Church. St. Ambrose said: “The Church is like the moon; it may wane, but never be destroyed; it may be darkened, but it can never disappear.”
St. Anselm said that the bark of the Church may be swept by the waves, but it can never sink, because Christ is there. When the Church is in greatest need, Christ comes to its help by miracles, or by raising up saintly men to strengthen and purify it. It is the bark of Peter; when the storm threatens to sink it, the Lord awakens from His sleep, and commands the winds and the waves into calm: “Peace; be still!”
What is meant by the indefectibility of the Catholic Church? —By the indefectibility of the Catholic Church is meant that the Church, as Christ founded it, will last until the end of time.
The Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that Christ “shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33)
- The Church survived three hundred years of incredible persecution under pagan Rome. Of the 33 Popes that ruled before the Edict of Milan, 30 died as martyrs. That mighty Empire, with its colossal strength, before whose standard the nations quailed, could not kill the infant Church or stop its progress. In a short time the Popes were ruling where the imperial Caesars had issued edicts against the Christian Church.
The Roman Empire waged ten fierce persecutions against the Church, but could not destroy it. In the year 313 the Emperor Constantine was converted, and granted the Church freedom by the Edict of Milan.
- Then for two centuries hordes of barbarians swept upon civilized Europe, destroying the old Roman Empire. The Church not only survived, but converted and civilized the barbarians.
God’s ever-watchful providence brought about the conversion of the Frankish king Clovis, with a great number of his warriors. This was the beginning of the firm establishment of the Church in the Frankish kingdom, although missionaries had gone there from the first century. In the eighth century St. Boniface converted Middle and Northern Germany, until then the home of violent paganism.
- For nine centuries Mohammedanism threatened Christian civilization. It was the Church under the Popes that urged the nations to league against Mohammedanism.
In the sixteenth century the Mohammedan menace was removed.
- Not only non-Christians, but its own rebellious children have persecuted the Church. From the beginning heresy has attacked it from within. And still the Church lives, greater than ever, changeless, indefectible.
The long history of the Catholic Church is attended by schism and heresy, but each attack has only strengthened it. It has continued to live and spread in spite of everything and everybody.
- The Church is the Bride of Christ, cast into prison, starved, thrown to the beasts, trampled underfoot, hacked, tortured, crucified, and burned. But this fair Bride emerges from it all in the bloom and freshness of youth, serene, calm, immortal.
Has the Catholic Church actually proved itself indefectible? —The Catholic Church has, throughout its long history, proved itself indefectible, against all kinds of attack from within and without, against every persecution and every heresy and schism.
As its Founder was persecuted, so the Catholic Church has been and ever will be persecuted. “You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake” (Matt. 10:18). “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10:22). “No disciple is above his teacher, nor is the servant above his master” (Matt. 10:24).
“They will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues” (Mark 13:9). “They will arrest you, and persecute you” (Luke 21:12).