By Amber Kinloch
I was walking out of the grocery store one day when a Seventh-day Adventist hailed me and invited me to her church’s Bible study. We got involved in an intense (but friendly) religious debate. Neither of us made a convert of the other, but the conversation gave me plenty of food for thought.
One major point that struck me was this: If someone had listened to us debating, how could they know that Catholicism is the true Faith? What unquestionable proofs does Catholicism have to offer that other churches do not?
It was then that I recalled the Marks of the Church.
“I Believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”
This line from the Nicene Creed that we profess every Sunday at Mass lists the Marks of the Church. These Marks are certain, clear signs by which all people can know that the Catholic Church is the true Church established by Jesus Christ. The Marks, “inseparably linked with each other, indicate essential features of the Church and her mission” (CCC 811).
Imagine if I’m giving you directions to my house. I tell you that it lies along a gravel road and that it has green shutters, a Snoopy mailbox, and a full length front porch. There might be plenty of other houses along that gravel road, perhaps even some with the same features. But there will only be one house like mine. So it is with the Church. All people can find it because only she possesses all four of these marks.
Furthermore, “The Church does not possess them [these Marks] of herself; it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities” (CCC 811). The Church didn’t establish these marks for herself; God did. The marks are His proof that she is the true Church. The Church is not a human institution, but a divine one.
A Brief Definition of the Marks
Below are some brief definitions of the Marks of the Church taken from the Baltimore Catechism No. 3.
- One: “The Catholic Church is one because all its members, according to the Will of Christ, profess the same faith, have the same sacrifice and sacraments, and are united under one and the same visible head, the Pope.”
- Holy: “The Catholic Church is holy because it was founded by Jesus Christ, who is all-holy, and because it teaches, according to the will of Christ, holy doctrines, and provides the means of leading a holy life, thereby giving holy members to every age.”
- Catholic (meaning universal): “The Catholic Church is catholic or universal because, destined to last for all time, it never fails to fulfil the divine commandment to teach all nations all the truths revealed by God.”
- Apostolic: “The Catholic Church is apostolic because it was founded by Christ on the apostles and, according to His divine will, has always been governed by their lawful successors.”
It’s all very clear and straightforward. Just rattle off this list and you’ve won a religious debate. Or not….
The Adventist’s Objections
The Marks and their definitions might be simple, but that doesn’t mean explaining about them is. For example, the Adventist I spoke with brought up all the sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the Church in recent years. By her logic, the leaders of a church should lead holy lives. Ours do not appear to do so. How then can the church be holy, and how can she claim to teach the truth?
Similar objections came to my mind regarding the other marks. Unless we firmly grasp the meaning of the marks and the teachings behind them, we will not be able to explain their significance and communicate their importance to others. As this month continues, then, we’ll dive deeper into explaining the marks and also examine some objections people might raise concerning them.
Stay tuned for our next post on why the Church is One!
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.