History of the Church: Christian Antiquity - Notre Dame

The Church

[Illustration] from Church - Christian Antiquity by Notre Dame

I. The Foundation of the Church

The Divine Head and Founder of the Church is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

During thirty years of hidden toil at Nazareth, followed by three years of incessant labours of zeal, closed by His Passion and Death, our Divine Lord showed us the example of a perfect life in the exercise of every virtue. But during the three years of His public ministry He taught us also all the truths of salvation.

He gathered round Him a band of faithful disciples, whom He instructed by constant teaching. From among these our Divine Master chose out twelve Apostles—Peter, Andrew, James, and John his brother, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James of Alpheus, Thaddeus or Jude, and Simon his brother; also Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. Our Lord kept the Apostles always with Him, giving them special teaching, and training them in their sacred duties. He bade them preach the Faith to all nations, and gave them the power of working miracles to prove the truth of their teaching.

He confided to them His own Divine authority, saying: "As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you."

All the Apostles were consecrated bishops by our Lord Himself, but that they might be united into one body, He chose St. Peter to be their head and chief when He, the Divine Founder of the Church, should have ascended into Heaven. St. Peter was therefore the first Pope, shepherd and teacher of the one flock of Christ. To him our Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and to him He promised infallibility, which means "that the Pope cannot err when, as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole. Church."

But these powers were not to cease with the Apostles. They were to consecrate and appoint other bishops and priests, to whom they were to hand down all the teaching and authority entrusted to them by their Divine Master. They received power to perpetuate the Sacrifice of Calvary by holy Mass, to absolve from sins, and to administer the other Sacraments.

Our Lord Jesus Christ also promised that the Holy Ghost would teach them all truth, and that He Himself would abide for ever with His Church.

All the truths taught by our Lord to His Apostles, and by the Apostles handed down to their successors to this day, constitute Christian Doctrine, the teaching of Christ, or the Catholic Faith.

II. Marks of the Church

The Society founded by our Blessed Lord is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

One, because she has one Founder and Head, Jesus Christ, the Son of the one, true, living God, represented on earth by His Vicar the Pope, the successor of St. Peter. She teaches the one same Faith, whole and entire, which our Lord gave to His Apostles. She administers the same Sacraments He gave them power to administer.

Holy, because her Founder is God, the Holy One Himself; and because, if faithful to her teaching, men cannot fail to become saints.

Catholic, because our Lord said that His Apostles were to teach all nations, that the Church would last through all time to the end of the world, and that the Holy Ghost would teach her all truth.

Apostolic, because our Lord taught His Apostles the truths which they have handed down to us; and because He gave the Apostles power to ordain other bishops and priests, and to hand on to them the orders and the mission they had received from Him. This continuity, or unbroken chain of Apostolic succession, will go on in the Church till the end of time.

III. History of the Church

Our Divine Lord foretold to His Apostles that when they carried His Faith abroad into the world many would not receive it, that persecutions would arise, and that among the children of the Church all would not be faithful. But He promised that the powers of evil should never overcome the Church, that, however terrible the struggle was sometimes to be, God would always conquer, and that His Church would be victorious over all her enemies.

St. Peter


Church History is an account of the labours of the Apostles and their successors, by whom the Catholic Faith has been carried into all the world; of the difficulties they have met with; of the wicked men who have opposed the Church; of others who have fallen away; and of how, in spite of all, the Church has come out victorious from every combat, and ever been the fruitful mother of multitudes of Saints.

A careful study of this will show how often the words of our Lord have been verified—"The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against My Church"; and how much reason we have to say, "The mercies of the Lord have been confirmed upon us, and the truth of the Lord abideth for ever."