What’s Atomic, Aloof, Ubiquitous and Smells Like Fish

2012-05-07 by . 5 comments

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!> The Catholic Church (Dang, spoiler syntax doesn’t work on the blog.)

Well, anyway it’s the Catholic Church. Since this month’s Eschewmenical topic is “What is the Church”, I figured it would be prudent to answer the question as directly as possible. Different denominations seem to have different marks, but as a Catholic catechist, one of the rote knowledge sort of things I attempt to drill into my students are the four marks of the church. From the Nicene Creed, codified at the council of Constantinople, they are (and tell me if you’ve heard this one before): the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

99% of the following is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church 813-933. However, as always, I must warn you that my only credentials are my Bronze Catholicism badge so take what I write with a grain of blessed salt.

Atomic – Oneness

The Catholic Church is a cohesive body. She is unified in her liturgy, in her sacraments and in her Traditions. The unity associated with the Church is modeled on unity of the Holy Trinity, but how many ‘unities’ does the Trinity have? One. How many unities do the United States and Canada have? I count seven.

We have one founder in Jesus Christ. The Church wasn’t invented by a plurality of minds. We don’t have framers, founders and papers to go off of. People can go back and say: “What was St. Paul thinking when he preached on marriage? What was St. Peter thinking when he preached on forgiveness?”, but they can’t go back and say, “What was St. Paul thinking when he instituted the Sacrament of marriage? What was St. Peter thinking when he instituted the Sacrament of reconciliation?” because these things were instituted by our Founder, Jesus Christ.

The Church has one soul, because only one soul can animate one body. It’s the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in those who make up its body that animates the Church. Jesus (and Lincoln to a lesser extent) said, a house divided cannot stand. He was talking about a wicked house but the logic (that a house split in two will fall to the ground) is true regardless if the house is a den of iniquity or the cenacle.

Aloof – Holiness

The Church is the spotless Bride of Christ. Spotless, pure, virginal, sacred, holy; these are all good words for what the Church is. Not necessarily the individuals within the Church. But for all we know, the Church could go on existing without a single member; so strong is the promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail over it. Because of that, we can confidently call the Church holy.

Porkins Pull Up!

Jek Porkins in the Package

Holiness shares a lot of letters with hoity toity-ness. But it need not be a synonym for it. To make something holy is to have it set apart. It may be set apart for battle like Excalibur or your grandpa’s Winchesters. It may be set aside for a party, like my wife’s 2002 Chardonnay we never bothered to drink. But it’s not set apart like Jek Porkins in the package never to be played with or played with only by special people. The Church is to be opened and played with by all.

Ubiquitous – Catholic (universal)

Catholic means universal, as in applies to all. It’s easy to get confused by this word, but I’ll bet most Protestants who recite the Nicene Creed understand the meaning of the word catholic better than most Catholics. To a non-Christian however, it probably seems strange that with a few exceptions we name our denominations based on a portion of our teaching. There’s nothing magic about the name Catholic and there’s no reason to think that it’s better to stress universality than to stress baptism (Baptists) or teaching (Presbyterians/Orthodox) or the Gospel (Evangelicals) or churchiness (Congregationalists/Episcopalians).

The magic, however, is in the truth of the word, catholic. Because we hold that everyone is more or less in the Catholic Church, even those who inevitably write in the comments section of blogs such as these that they don’t want anything to do with my misogynistic, homophobic church run by women and gay priests. Everyone living or dead is pray-for-able. The Church does not damn anyone to Hell; she acknowledges that there are special folks in Heaven who intercede on our behalf and considers both them and us the living to be saints. Furthermore, she holds the dignity of the human person as the very most important thing and always and in what ever way seek to end human suffering.

Smells of Fish – Apostolic

The Catholic Church is brought to you today

by the letter A

and by the number twelve

The twelve apostles, ordained by Jesus, sealed with the Holy Spirit were sent forth to be fishers of men, making disciples of all nations; baptizing, casting out demons, forgiving sins, healing mind, spirit and body. They were the first to go out and do all that Jesus had taught them to do. In so doing, they chose men to act as preachers and sent them out (Romans 10:14-15) and they also chose men to aid in the preaching (1 Tim 3:8-10). They themselves were the first Bishops and those whom they chose to ordain were the next Bishops right down to our present day. Other denominations can’t really make that claim.

Founders of Christian Denominations
NameYear  FounderOrigin
Catholic33Jesus ChristJerusalem
Lutheran1524Martin LutherGermany
Episcopalian1534Henry VIIIEngland
Presbyterian1560John KnoxScotland
Baptist1600John SmythAmsterdam
Congregational1600Robert BrownEngland
Methodist1739John and Charles WesleyEngland
United Brethren1800Philip Otterbein & Martin Boehm Maryland, USA
Disciples of Christ1827Thomas & Alexander CampbellKentucky, USA
Mormon1830Joseph SmithNew York, USA
Salvation Army1865William BoothLondon
Christian Science1879Mary Baker EddyBoston, Massachusetts USA
Four-Square Gospel 1917Aimee-Semple McPhersonLos Angeles, California USA
From “The Faith of Millions” by Rev. John A. O’Brien, Ph.D.

The Catholic Church was paid for

by the blood of martyrs

and readers like you, thank you!

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  • Well written! That’s the most entertaining explanation of the Nicene Creed’s “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” clause I’ve ever read.

    I’ve got one question for clarification: In what sense is everyone “more or less in the Catholic Church”? I’m not sure what that means.

    • Peter Turner says:

      Thanks. What I mean by “more or less” is what the Catechism says “Belong or are Ordered” in article 836. I may be stretching it a bit, hopefully I’m not preaching heresy.

      “All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God. . . . And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation.”


  • Jon Ericson says:

    You missed two lines:

    Roman Catholic     1054  Pope Leo IX          Rome
    Eastern Orthodoxy  1054  Patriarch Michael I  Constantinople
    This era in church history leaves a bad taste in my mouth:

    • The Donation of Constantine
    • The Forth Crusade
    • The Sack of Constantinople

    All of this arose because the church allowed herself to be caught up in Europe’s politics and became inflexible in her hierarchy. She sacrificed some of her holiness. (But I’ll save the rest of my comments on this subject for my post in a few weeks.)

    I appreciate the section on holiness, but what’s the difference between the 2002 Chardonnay and Jek Porkins?

    The first characteristic (Atomic) got me wondering if the church meets the ACID test (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ACID).

    At this stage, bronze badges in a particular tag, might as well be gold badges. Good work!

    • Peter Turner says:

      El’endia Starman wanted me to expand on that section on holiness and I can see why. The Church couldn’t lose any holiness because her holiness isn’t contingent on the holiness of her members. The popes in the Renaissance certainly were nothing to write home about either, but they managed to not subvert the truths that mattered and I think we made it out alright, although we’ve got a lot of challenges today.

      I don’t know why the source I used didn’t put Eastern Orthodoxy in that list. The book I referenced certainly was written at a time when East-West relations weren’t as beneficent as they seem to be nowadays. But, as Pope John Paul II said, we’re just two lungs of the same church, we’ve both got the same claim to apostolic succession.

      Jek Porkins is never to be opened even by the connoisseur, the Chardonnay is to be opened and drank at some point.

      As far as I can tell, in my faith journey, the Catholic Church has been always threadsafe.

    • Jon Ericson says:

      I think the holiness of the church is contingent on the holiness of at least some of her members:

      “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21-23 ESV)

      Each of the two lungs both tried to kick the other out of the body, which is not really in the spirit of reconciliation. But, I’m living in just the same glass house really. Not a year goes by that some Evangelical leader turns out to be a fraud and a hypocrite. So that’s why I’m compelled to reach as far back as I’m able to find the faith that will support me. Further back than even Paul, who is just one minister of the gospel.

      So I’m encouraged when I see other Christians emphasize that the church rests on the foundation of Christ Jesus. We agree on more than we disagree on, I’d say.

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