Thursday, January 31, 2013

One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

A Brief Introduction to the Doctrine of Church

The creed of the second Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicaea, is a good place to begin. 

"I believe in one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church..." 

The word "church" derives from the Greek word "ekklesia", meaning to come together or a gathering. This general understanding of ekklesia developed beyond its original meaning and became inclusive of the places of worship where the Church gathered together. Its meaning became inclusive of three characteristics:

  • an individual local community
  • several communities or assemblies
  • Or more particularly to the appointed officers or overseers; the authority figures of the organization.
For the Holy Fathers and Theologians of the Catholic/Orthodox Faith it was understood to reference the gathering of the people of God. As our ecclesiology of Church evolved it became understood, through the writing of the Holy Fathers, the Councils and the Theologians that "Church" was synonymous with the people of God, the new Israel, the new and everlasting Covenant. It was not uncommon to here this doctrine of Church expressed as Church Triumphant, those believers in heaven, or as Church Militant, those believers still on earth working out their salvation. In the Western Church, there is reference made to those who are in an ongoing state of purification/theosis as the Church Suffering, that is, those believers who did not merit hell, yet remain somewhat defiled and need of purification before fully enjoying being in total union with God.

The Church, the people of God is the communion of the saints: those in heaven, those in an ongoing state of theosis, and those on earth. As Father Demetrios S. Kavadas writes: "Thus the Church is both visible and invisible, divine and human, and may be defined as 'that holy foundation made by Christ for the salvation of men.'"

The Four Marks of the Church
  • One
  • Holy 
  • Catholic
  • Apostolic
The Church, East and West, contains these four marks that identify it as the Christian Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ upon the holy Apostles and transmitted down through the ages. These four marks constitute the essential nature of the Church. St. Paul the Apostle taught:

"There is one Body and one Spirit; just as you were called to the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all," (Ephesians 4: 5).

The Church is One
In its origin, essence, faith, discipline and public prayer all of the members of the body of Christ are united, are invigorated by the life-giving Holy Spirit and believe in the one Lord, namely Jesus Christ - the eternally begotten Son of the Most High. 

In St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians we can read just how significant and important there exists a unity of discipline and hierarchical structure of government: 

"Now I appeal to you, brothers ans sisters, by the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, mu brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, 'I belong to Paul', or 'I belong to Apollos', or 'I belong to Cephas', or 'I belong to Christ.' Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1: 10-13).

The Church is Holy
The Church is holy because its Head, Jesus Christ, is holy. Since the founder is holy, the Church's functions are to make her members holy. The Church is not a human institution, although it is composed of a human element, namely its members. The Church is a divine institution because her founder is a divine person, who established his Church upon St. Peter the Apostle: 

"And I tell you, you are Peter (Petros means rock), and on this rock (solid foundation) I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it," (Matthew 16: 18).

The Church is holy because the divine presence lives in the Church, in the baptized. Her mission is to bring the message of God's salvation to the world and bring others to God through his Church.

The Church is Catholic
The Church is Catholic because she is universal, everywhere. The term Catholic was applied to the Church by St. Ignatius of Antioch in the second century, circa 107AD when he addressed the Christians in Smyrna.

In the same Letter to the Smyrnaeans, he exhorted the Christians to remain closely united with their bishop: "Wherever the bishop is, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

The word "Katholicos" is a Greek word that is composed of two Greek words: katha and olos.
It can be understood that the whole world, universally, comes together as Church.

The Church is Apostolic
The Church is Apostolic because it was founded upon the foundation of the holy Apostles. Christ is the cornerstone of this foundation; it is Christ who sent the Apostles forth to preach the Gospel and plant the Church to all the nations. The Apostles were the first missionaries, therefore the Church is missionary since its most primitive state. The very word "Apostle" comes from "apostello" meaning "I send to".

The Church is Apostolic in the sense that there retains a historic continuity with the Apostles through the bishops of the Church, successors to the holy Apostles. The holy Apostles ordained others by the laying on of hands, those men ordained, passed it along by ordaining others, etc. The bishops are the successors of the Apostles, and to whom the responsibility of administering the holy mystery of ordination is entrusted.

The following can be said of the Church:

1.  It is the Apostolic Church, founded by Jesus Christ.

2. The Church is infallible in matters of Faith and Morals; what it has received it passes on.

3. The Church adheres to what has been divinely revealed in both Sacred Tradition (word of mouth from the Apostles) and Sacred Scripture. The Church does not recognize any unity of doctrine accept that which She has been entrusted with and continues to transmit to the world.

4. The fullness of the Truth and what has been divinely revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ subsists in the same Apostolic Church (this is inclusive of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches)

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