The One True Church?


There are not over a 100 people in the U.S. that hate the Catholic Church, there are millions however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church”-Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

When Archbishop Fulton Sheen said those words in the late 20th century, he was speaking about how non-Catholics perceive the Catholic Church teachings compared with what the Catholic Church actually believes and teaches. Clearly they are two different things. Most times non-Catholics get it wrong and even some Catholics perpetuate errors and misconceptions about their own faith. Now many years later I am telling you that the Catholic Church is the one true church that Jesus Christ founded and I was one of those millions. Even our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI as recent as in July 2007 issued a statement that Jesus established only one church. If you are Protestant you are probably saying at this point how can the Catholic Church make the claim that they are the One True Church? Does it mean my church is invalid? The answer to that question is yes in so far as Jesus Christ set up and left us only one visible church and no as being a member of the body of Christ. The Catholic Church only claims that it alone contains the fullness of the truth thereby making it the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic (true) church that Jesus Christ founded. Many elements of truth can be found outside of the Catholic Church, but as a body of Christians we are a wounded bunch both inside and outside the Catholic church. The mere fact that we are a wounded bunch of sinners in the Catholic church, does not in any way diminish the claim to the deposit of the fullness of the truth which subsists in the One True Catholic church. Protestants are just as wounded as Catholics but the graces of Jesus Christ are found both inside and outside the church. To quote Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) 8,2

In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

A little later on I will elaborate on what those four crucial words (One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic) mean for the one true church. All the writings quoted from the Early Church Fathers can be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Note, before proceeding if you would like to see a graphical summary of the Catholic claims to the one true church you can click here to download a pdf file. Otherwise you can continue reading for a more detailed explanation.

Why do you say that Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church?

It is the oldest church in the world and it can trace its roots all the way back to Peter the first Pope and the apostles. Further proof can be gleaned from the writings of the first christians and in particular St. Ignatius of Antioch whose was the disciple of St. John the evangelist for nearly 20 years.  He wrote in his letter to the Smyrnaeans 8:1-2, AD107;

“You must follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

From this statement we glean four important things:

  1. 1. It implies a hierarchical structure associated with the early church consisting of Bishops, Priests (Presbytery) and Deacons. This is same hierarchy as in the Catholic and Orthodox churches and a few of the main line Protestant churches. If you don’t have a Bishop you are not in the same church that Jesus Christ founded. Note people who just proclaim themselves Bishops do not qualify since no one gave that authority.

  1. 2. Ignatius mentions the Catholic church as being where ever Jesus Christ is present shortly after our Lord ascended into heaven. This is the first known use of the word “Catholic” or universal that we have on record.

  1. 3. Ignatius talks about the Eucharist or the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Hence this is an early church belief that is still held in the Catholic and Orthodox churches today but seldom believed in Protestant circles.

  1. 4. The date of the statement is 107AD while he was on his way to martyrdom in Rome, which is only within 10-15 years of St. John the apostle death.  How could St. Ignatius of Antioch who was trained by St. John the apostle get it wrong?

Someone said the Emperor Constantine setup the Catholic church in 312AD?

This is false. Constantine only legalized Christianity when he signed the Edict of Milan in 313AD which officially ended Roman persecution of the church.  The previous year he had just defeated the pagan general Maxentius using the Christian cross in battle. His mother St. Helena was already a Christian long before that and probably raised Constantine with Christian virtues. There was already an existing church when Constantine came into the picture as evidenced by the writings of the Patristic fathers.

I’m still not convinced that Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church.

Let’s look at it this way. Who founded your church? Surely it was started by some man or woman, more than likely within the last 500 years.  There are some 30,000+ protestant churches in the world teaching different things and having differing theological beliefs since 1517AD.  To see when your church started check out this short list taken from “The Catholic Treasure Chest”. A longer list can be found here. If you are still not convinced then prove to me that your church existed before 1517AD. I say this because what can be affirmed without proof can be equally denied without proof. Hence any written proof by a church father or someone of antiquity from your denomination would suffice.

I’m still puzzled as to exactly how do we determine which is the Church that Jesus Christ founded?

The answer is simple.  There should be at least three guiding criteria:

  1. 1. The church founded by Jesus Christ must go back in history to the time of Jesus Christ.

  1. 2. Its teachings or doctrinal beliefs must match those of the Apostolic church. The writings of the immediate successors to the apostles must also match those of the apostles and those of the modern day church.

  1. 3. Its leaders must be able to trace their authority back to the apostles. If one cannot trace their authority back to the apostles it follows that one is acting on their own authority and not based on that handed down to the apostles by Jesus Christ.

Only the Catholic and Orthodox churches can meet all these requirements.

Show me in the bible where did Jesus setup the Catholic church?

Strictly speaking Jesus did not even ask the apostles to even write the Bible, but you believe in it!  Not only that, but the Catholic church gave you the Bible. So asking for something along those lines is like me asking you where did Jesus Christ say to set up your denomination. Our only reference to the like comes from Mt. 28:19-20 where Jesus did say; “[19] Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Hence the call made to the first disciples was to do and to teach by example, not to write a book which did not appear until many centuries later. We do know however, that Jesus gave Peter the Petrine ministry after Peter was the first to give his profession of faith in Matthew 16. Immediately after this profession of faith Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom in a pastoral manner.

Who says that the Catholic church can trace its roots back to Peter?

We only need to look at the writings of St. Irenaus who was the disciple of St. Polycarp who was the disciple of St. John the apostle to see what he wrote in the year 190AD;

“The blessed apostles [Peter and Paul], then, having founded and built up the Church [of Rome], committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric... To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth - Against heresies, book 3,chapter 3, no. 3”.

In summary St. Irenaeus of Lyons (modern day France/Gaul) mentions 11 successors or Popes to Peter in the year 190AD. Later on, the historian Eusebius in the 4th century gives us a more detailed history of the church. St. Irenaeus also taught that Christians must be united to the Church of Rome in order to maintain the Apostolic tradition. Now why would he say something like that in 190AD!

The Catholic church has erred in its beliefs over the years, so much so that Luther rediscovered the church in 1517AD.

Your statement is akin to saying that the church instituted by Jesus Christ started off fine, but fell off the deep end only to be resurrected by Martin Luther the author of the reformation and former Catholic Augustinian Monk. Yes he was Catholic and he was responsible for the schism of the Reformation. The actual beliefs of the Catholic church and refutes to the beliefs can be found in the Apologetics section of this site but suffice to say consider the words of our Lord in Mt. 16:18

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Examining first the last part of the sentence it simply means that the church cannot be destroyed. That is it will last for all eternity until the Lord returns. It implies perpetuity. Since the Lord left this earth its been 2000 years for the Catholic church and less than 500 years for the Protestant churches and we are in the 21st century. If the Catholic church has erred then the gates of hell have pervaded against her. If the gates of hell have succeeded against the Catholic church then Jesus Christ did not keep his promise to us. It is also illogical to think that Jesus would let Satan conquer the church from early times, then later on in 1517AD he would take it back from Satan.

Note in the first part of this verse the Lord speaks of building “on this rock” which Catholics and many scholarly theologians including Protestant ones have admitted is Peter. The point to be made however, is that he did not say “on these rocks”, “with these rocks” or “next to this rock”. Neither did he say churches, the plural form of church. The rock is used in the singular tense and is not plural as many Protestants would believe.

Next look at Mt. 28:19-20; “[19] Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

In the last sentence there, Jesus is telling us that he will be with us until the end of time! In other words he had no intention of leaving the church in mid stream and returning to it via Martin Luther who started the reformation in 1517AD. This is despite the abuses that did take place by wayward clergymen in the Catholic church just prior to the reformation.

How about John 14:16-17 “[16] And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— [17] the Spirit of truth.”  The spirit of truth forever! This means all along Jesus was going to be with the Catholic church proving the Catholic church point!

Probably the most damning evidence in support of the truth claims of the Catholic church outside of scripture and the church fathers, probably comes from Martin Luther himself who wrote in 1522AD in a sermon,

Accordingly, we concede to the papacy that they sit in the true Church, possessing the office instituted by Christ and inherited from the apostles, to teach, baptize, administer the sacrament, absolve, ordain, etc.,” - Sermon for the Sunday after Christ’s Ascension; John 15:26-16:4, page 265, paragraph 28.

Notice the use of words “The true church”. In other words Martin Luther is conceding that the Catholic church is the true church. A few years later (1537AD) Martin Luther would write,

We concede -- as we must -- that so much of what they [the Catholic Church] say is true: that the papacy has God's word and the office of the apostles, and that we have received Holy Scriptures, Baptism, the Sacrament, and the pulpit from them. What would we know of these if it were not for them? ” - Sermon on the gospel of St. John, chaps. 14 - 16, Vol. 24 of LUTHER'S WORKS, St. Louis, Mo., Concordia, 1961, 304.

Clearly the above is an admission of the preeminence of the church of Rome that the father of the reformation is admitting.

But...but, the Catholic church is a rich, corrupt, scandal ridden old institution that has long served its purpose.

When you say rich, when last have you seen a Catholic priest driving around in BMW 540i? Or a Bishop for that matter? For all the monies that the church takes in which it is responsible for and not to the Vatican, a similar amount goes out for missions and to helping the poor around the world, in diocesan communities and paying bills (let’s not forget). Churches cost money to run and heat. All priests take a vow of poverty and in case you forgot the apostles were not rich men.

Regarding corrupt my response is the church is a hospital for sinners not saints. By the way saints in heaven that the church has declared saints do not need the hospital any more. Jesus never promised us a perfect church and you only need to look in your own denomination or our own families to see that is the case. Why because we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Here is an additional thought: One can only corrupt what was originally good in the first place. We can’t corrupt what is already corrupted. Secondly, what is corrupt and remains corrupt will eventually be destroyed. The Catholic church is still alive and kicking when last I checked.

Scandals do not prove that the Catholic church is false but rather the opposite and I’m not advocating that scandals do occur in the Catholic church! But rather scandals prove that the church contains sinners as well as good people comparable to Jesus parable of the wheat and the tares. See Mt. 13:24-30. See also Mt. 13:47-48. Given that the church that Jesus Christ founded has both a human and a divine origin, scandals, heresies, apostasies and schisms must be expected on the human side of the church. For its divine nature one cannot expect it to go astray since it has Jesus Christ as its founder.

Finally, if you claim that it has long served its purpose then may I suggest you read any one of the late Pope JPII encyclicals or that of Pope Benedict XVI. Start with an easy one, Spe Salve (On Christian Hope).

Ok I can finally accept that there existed an early “Catholic” church, but someone told me that there were multitudes of churches back then and not a single Catholic church. What is your response?

It is true that small communities were set up by the apostles where ever they traveled. Jesus said to go and spread the Gospel throughout the whole world. Example, Peter went to Antioch, Paul to the Thessalonians, Corinthians, Mark to Alexandria, Egypt, Thomas to India, etc. In fact several of the early churches remain with us today but many have disappeared. The Catholic church itself is made up of 22 rites of which the largest is the Latin rite or the Roman Catholic rite. The Coptic Catholic church and the Maronite Catholic church can trace their roots to the churches established in Alexandria and Antioch, respectively. What you will not find however, is a “Protestant” church whose origins go back to the first two centuries.

Let us however, remember something. After Jesus death the young church was persecuted off and on for about 300 years by various Roman emperors. In total they had about 10 major persecutions by various emperors. They constantly hid and met in small groups during those terrible times and when they were caught their manuscripts were burned and they killed. Hence the infant Catholic church or “Universal” church would look vastly different from what you and I know today in terms of buildings but their doctrinal teachings are the same as 2000 years ago. They would also all recognize the Pope as their head. The analogy would to examine your baby pictures, adolescent pictures and adult pictures and while its still you (we hope), one can clearly see the differences as you age. It is also true that many heretical groups arose during that time to challenge the young Catholic church for authority and followers so it was necessary that the Catholic church maintain the truth passed down via the apostles. That aside, the many writings of the early church fathers prove that the early church was liturgical, hierarchal and of one mind despite being in different geographical locations.  To the astute reader this should sound  just like the one Catholic church of today.

You mentioned the Catholic church considers itself the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Please elaborate.

The words One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church make up what we call the 4 marks of the church. Each mark is important and one can write a thesis on it. Suffice to say here is a short explanation of what each means:

ONE - This means that the church Jesus Christ founded must be ONE in faith, ONE in worship, ONE in obedience, and ONE in the means of grace throughout the entire world.

HOLY - The church is HOLY, because her founder Jesus Christ is HOLY. She teaches a HOLY doctrine, invites all to live a HOLY life and aids souls to attain HOLINESS.

CATHOLIC - The church is CATHOLIC or Universal because she teaches all nations while subsisting in all ages, and was established by Jesus Christ to aid all men to salvation, and she teaches all the doctrines of Jesus Christ.

APOSTOLIC - The church is APOSTOLIC because she was founded by Jesus Christ on his apostles; is governed by the lawful successors to those APOSTLES and can never cease to teach their doctrines.

I have heard that the Orthodox churches of the East consider themselves the One True church making the same claim as the Roman Catholic church.

I begin by paraphrasing the words of the late John Paul II that the Catholics and Orthodox churches are “the two lungs within the same Body”. What did he mean by that? In short there was prior to the great schism of 1054AD one church consisting of Eastern and Western parts. A number of factors influenced the separation of the two churches which really began a few centuries before culminating in the final break of 1054AD.

Those factors are too long to discuss here but they concern several doctrinal issues which while being minor have thwarted  attempts at reconciliation over the centuries post 1054AD. Briefly however, the Orthodox churches share much in common with Catholics such as the 7 sacraments, a valid priesthood, creeds, and the treasures of the church. The Catholic church considers the Easter Orthodox church its younger brother as Peter (Rome) is to Andrew (Constantinople). That said there are several mitigating factors that diminish their claim considerably. First there is the lack of a single authority in the Orthodox church. There is a patriarch but he is “first among equals” and the Orthodox churches are not answerable like in the Catholic church which has the Pope, the servant of servants. As such, not all Orthodox churches are in communion with one another.

A second mitigating factor is that while the Orthodox church recognizes the first seven ecumenical councils before 1054AD which they share with Catholics (Catholics have 21 councils to date) it has not been able to call a council on its own to deal with problems. Why, because they do not have a Pope and are not all in communion with each other. The absence of a Pope has left the Orthodox in a form of Magisterial paralysis which leaves their church without a teaching authority to settle disputes when they arise. Of course an argument can be made that there is no evidence to believe that the Popes called the  very early councils, but that is best left to the historians.

Finally there are about 400 million Orthodox and 1.1 billion Catholics. While numbers do not make any church the true church, after 2000 years must be reflected in growth numbers in my opinion. Those factors alone convinced me of the fullness of the truth in the Catholic church. It is my hope that in God’s time we will be united as we truly are “the two lungs within the same Body”.

The divisions in Protestantism are not important for we are all “catholic”.

It is a gross denial to pretend that divisions in Protestantism are unimportant and I noticed that you used the word catholic with a small ‘c’ to distinguish yourself from the Catholic Church. It is true that we are all members of the body of Christ and we share in the hope that awaits us all, and in that sense we all belong to the universal body of believers. We also have to work towards unity as our Lord commanded. However, while it is true that many denominations have commonalities it is equally true they teach and believe in different doctrines and have different interpretations of the Bible.

The roots of all division is sin, but to see why it has had such a significant effect on Protestantism consider the words of our Lord to Peter in Luke 22:31-32,

[31]”Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.

[32] But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Here the correct translation of sift “you” is really sift “you all” since the Greek word for “you” here is plural. That is the group of apostles. Jesus however prays for Peter and hence one would want to be included in the prayer for Peter so that they would be strengthen by him. If you are not included in that prayer for Peter, what happens? Satan sifts you like wheat. Wheat sifted is divided and divided until it gets so thin it is of little use. This is the case of Protestantism which started off with Martin Luther and now consists of some 30,000+ Protestant groups worldwide.

It is also instructive to understand what the Catholic church teaches about the Unity and the salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church in the Vatican document “DOMINUS IESUS” 16,3;

“The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession 53 — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ... which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Mt 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth' (1 Tim 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”.54  With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”,55 that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church.56 But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

None of what you have said so far really matters to me in the long run.

Then you aren’t being intellectually honest with yourself and you are disregarding history and facts given what you have just read. My goal is to point you towards finding the fullness of the truth which millions for 2000 years have believed is contained in the Catholic church. Your church may be very God faring, Gospel driven, but if it doesn’t have Bishops, Priests and Deacons and cannot trace its roots back to the apostles then someone started your church, not Jesus Christ. Do you have zero sacraments, one or two? Jesus left us with 7 sacraments. Can you therefore claim to have everything that Jesus Christ gave you?

Take me to the Early Church FathersEarly_Church_Fathers.htmlEarly_Church_Fathers.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0