Four Marks of the Church

The Four Marks of the Church: “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic” is of course derived from the Catholic Profession of Faith, also called the Nicene Creed.  The Creed was adopted at the First Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., with the Four Marks added in 381 A.D. at the First Council of Constantinople.  The ideas behind the Four Marks have been in the Church since early times (pre 325 A.D.).  Allusions to the Marks can be found in the writings of 2nd century early Church Father and bishop, Ignatius of Antioch who coined the term “Catholic” Church – meaning Universal – early in that century.  The very earliest stage of Christianity is called the Apostolic Age whereby the Apostles of Christ were physically spreading the Gospel and converting Jews and Gentiles to the Church.  Thus, the connection of Christ’s works and Word from the Apostles to the early Church Fathers, like Ignatius, to the time when the Church codified its beliefs (the Nicene Creed) in response to certain heresies and misconceptions, is direct and unquestionable historically.  This is why it is so perplexing to so many Catholics that our separated Christian brothers and sisters don’t recognize the preeminence of the Church.

Coming Home

I was born Catholic, raised by two devoted Catholics, my grandparents went to Mass everyday, I have several clergy in my extended family and went to Catholic school through 12th grade.  What’s the point?  Well, by the time I began to think for myself in college, I knew nothing else but Catholic Christianity.  While in college, as most kids at that time do, I started to challenge my beliefs, my Christianity, Catholic doctrine and “what it was all about”.  I questioned whether I learned my faith via upbringing versus obtaining faith through prayer and a genuine understanding of Catholicism.  I started to think more rationally and logically about everything, again, I was in college.  It was an extremely frightening period because up to that point, in my mind, the Christian God and Jesus always existed.  I had always felt like I had Jesus there as the ultimate comfort when I was troubled.  However, now, for the first time, I doubted whether all I had learned to believe was true.

Sometime in late 1985 or early 1986, I was home from college and of course I went to Church not wanting to upset my parents.  While sitting at Mass and listening to the priest’s homily, I gazed at the mosaic of the risen Christ on the wall.  All of a sudden I thought to myself; “I really don’t genuinely believe all this”.  I left Mass and ran home to my parents for help.  I was freaking out.  I confided in them about what just happened and all I was pondering in my mind at school.  That not only was I doubting the supremacy of the Catholic Church, but the relevance of Christianity in total.  As always, they calmed my fears with confident and reassuring words about Christ and the Catholic faith.  What did they say?  “Tom, Christ was a real person, a human being who was also God and actually walked the earth!  He left us a Church and the Sacraments, and those continue unbroken until today.  There’s only one God and one Church”.  An immediate calmness came over me and I knew I had come back home to the Church.  It made sense to me now, but not as a child needing comfort or a crutch, but as a thoughtful adult who had really all along had Christ in my heart and believed in the supremacy of the Church.


What my parents did was speak to history, to the facts about Christianity and the Catholic Church.  They spoke to my growing want and need to believe in absolute truths versus blind faith and revisionist history that came from separated Christians who either opposed the Church or were simply ignorant of Her.  Little did I realize it was Christ speaking through them, appealing to my mind, connecting it to what was already written on my heart all along; that He was real and that the Church He established was where the absolute and fullness of the Truth was found; the Catholic Church.  I thought about what I had learned about my faith over all those years and realized I was learning the Truth, the historical facts, which made believing much easier (I am named after St. Thomas, after all).  The fact is that Christ provided an enormous amount of evidence that He was God, from His innumerable miracles to the ultimate evidence; His resurrection from the dead.  And history shows without a shadow of a doubt, even if you don’t believe Christ was divine, that Jesus established one Church.

There is but one God, one Adam, one father-in-faith; Abraham, one chosen people; the Israelites, one Savior; Jesus – the one Son of God, one Vicar of Christ; Peter (the Papacy) and one Church; the Catholic Church.  As God the Father is the one and only God, the one and only ultimate authority, and His Son the one and only incarnation of the Father’s Word, the Catholic Church is the one and only fiduciary of that Word.  There has to be an ultimate authority on earth to protect the Word.  This is why the Protestant Reformation has grown into over 30,000 denominations.  Because every person that calls themselves a pastor believes their version or interpretation of Scripture is the “right and accurate one”.  Really, for all Christians, it should be intuitively obvious that this makes no sense and thus understand the preeminence of the Catholic Church.  “There is one body and one spirit,” Paul wrote, “just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all” (Eph. 4:4-5). Paul linked this primitive unity to the Church’s common Eucharistic bread: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). Jesus had promised at the outset that “there would be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).


The Catholic Church is Holy. The word holy means set apart for a special purpose by and for God and that it had the all-holy God Himself as author.   The term does not infer that all Catholics have ceased to be sinners and have themselves become all-holy.  Nor does it mean that the “institution of the Church” cannot sin.  We’ve seen all too often throughout history the institutional Church’s imperfection.  The priest homosexual scandal of the past couple decades being the most recent example.  The Church from the beginning, on Her human side, has been composed of sinners: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15)”.  The Church was founded for no other reason than to continue Christ’s redemptive and sanctifying work with sinners in the world.

One of the things implicit in the appellation “holy” as applied to the Church, then, is that the Church from the beginning has been endowed with the sacramental means to help make holy the sinners who are found in Her ranks. The Church has been given the Sacraments along with the absolute and complete responsibility to protect and interpret the Word (the Magisterium) precisely in order to be able to help make sinners holy.  It was in this sense that Paul was able to write, “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify Her, having cleansed Her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that She might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).


The term Catholic, derived from the Greek word katholikos, which means “universal” or “general”, was first used to describe the Church in the early 2nd century by St. Ignatius of Antioch.  The term katholikos is equivalent to katholou means “according to the whole.”  Thus the full name Catholic Church  means “universal” or “whole” church.   Based on the promises of Christ in the Gospels, the Church believes that it is continually guided by the Holy Spirit and so protected infallibly from falling into doctrinal error.  The Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Spirit reveals God’s truth through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium.

Sacred Scripture, codified by the Catholic Church at the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. consists of 73 books; 46 found in the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament — known as the Septuagint and 27 New Testament writings first found in the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209, the oldest extant manuscripts of the Greek Bible (Old and New Testament, named for the residence in the Vatican Library where it has been stored since at least the 15th century.  It is written on 759 leaves of vellum in uncial letters, and has been dated palaeographically to the 4th century).  Sacred Tradition consists of those teachings handed down since the time of the Apostles.  After all, Christ Himself did not have a scribe – almost unheard of for a prophet of His time, and given the Canon was not officially created until 393 A.D., it’s intuitively obvious that all the teachings that existed “officially” before the Bible were Sacred Tradition.  Scripture and Sacred Tradition are collectively known as the “deposit of faith” (depositum fidei).  These are in turn interpreted by the Magisterium, the Church’s supreme teaching authority, which is exercised by the Pope and the College of Bishops in union with the Pope who is the bishop of Rome.


Finally, the Church that was created by Christ on Peter – the Rock, was necessarily apostolic. Christ founded the Church upon the apostles and in no other way: “Did I not choose you, the twelve?” he asked them (John 6:70).  The apostles, of all people, understood perfectly well that they did not set themselves up in their own little community, as we sometimes today see gospel churches set up in store fronts or in the suburbs. The New Testament teaches, “One does not take the honor upon himself” (Heb. 5:4).

Nothing is clearer, then, that the Catholic Church started out as “apostolic.” The question is whether the apostles had the power and authority to pass on to others what they had received from Christ. They very definitely did have this power and authority; the New Testament evidence is clear about that.  The subsequent historical evidence is equally clear that they did pass it on to successors – the bishops.  There are many references in the New Testament itself to the appointment of bishops by the Apostles, as well as to the appointment of further bishops by them (Titus 1:5-9).  When we ask where this apostolic Church which the New Testament tells us Christ founded is to be found, we have to reformulate the question to ask: What Church, if any, descends in an unbroken line from Jesus to the apostles to the bishop through to this very moment?  The Catholic Church.

Christ said nothing more solemnly and categorically than the words He speaks in the New Testament in which he declares that the Apostles and their successors would speak for Him in the serious business of gathering in and sanctifying His people and leading them toward the salvation he offers.  Mark 3:13-15,  “And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him.  And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach,  and to have authority to cast out the demons.” and Matthew 28:16-20,” But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'” 

Jesus intended that the fullness of his grace should come to his people in a Church that, from the beginning, was what the Creed still calls it today: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.


2 Responses to “There is Only “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic” Christian Church”

  1. BahaMan says:

    Tom……..this is one of your best posts on Holy Mother Church and you have reminded me of one the most perplexing things regarding our seperated protestant brothers & sisters, Re: the Mark “One”.

    They are well aware of Christian history since Apostolic times yet deny the Roman Church Her rightful place as the only “denomination” founded by Christ Himself which should have always kept them in the fold.

    They KNOW only She existed until Martin Luther’s emergence on the scene. They KNOW that Martin Luther himself, although disgusted with Church abuses (rightfully so!), absolutely opposed seperating from Rome (he was clergy, after all); rather he advocated REFORM. But as we know from history, politics stepped in and the German princes of the northern provinces saw a way to tell the Pope to “piss off” and broke away from Church authority. The southern portion of Germany remains Catholic to this day while the north of the country, and Denmark & points north are – Lutheran!

    Protestants basically read the same bible we do. However, they are most certainly guilty of removing some books and parts of others to suit their belief system. Shame on them! See the following link for an explanation in full:

    However, most perplexing is this:

    Protestants most certainly have not altered any of the four Gospels. Therefore, as for the Gospels, they are reading the same words of Our Lord as any Catholic. When they read Christ’s “Priestly Prayer for Unity”, I cannot imagine they can justify their seperation. For this wonderful reading, please see the entire chapter 17 of John’s Gospel.

    Verse 23: “I in them and Thou in Me; that they may be perfected in UNITY”…………..

    …..”wherein Jesus intercedes for the UNIVERSAL Church. For His Church He asks UNITY on earth and glory in heaven. That it be “one” is His repeated plea, with the “oneness” which is His with the Father. He wants the world to note the unity of His Church, and to learn that such a unity cannot come from human institution, but is from a divine plan based on the unity of the Trinity Itself.” (Ref: “The Life of Christ”, Isidore O’Brien, O.F.M., St. Anthony Guild Press, 1937)


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