Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Newman's Essay, Part VI: Application of First Note of a True Development: Preservation of Type 

First, for an example of the first note, that of preservation of type. It can be demonstrated that certain descriptions of the Catholic Church hold true from its earliest days to its most recent, admitted even by its worst enemies - namely, that it is a well-organized and well-disciplined religious body, exclusive and secretive, universally continuous, intolerant of its surrounding bodies, be they secular or heretical, antagonistic toward society, often accused of superstition, foolishness, and crimes against humanity, and is the only communion which can lay claim to this description.

In the first centuries of the Church, she found herself often accused of superstition and secrecy, mainly because of confusion with the mystery cults and Gnostic sects. Other charges came and went, but this one charge was uniquitious and universal - that of superstition. This charge certainly became less frequent after Christianity was legalized, but even afterwards, to this very day, whenever there were opponents of Christianity, they were consistent in using the same accusations against the Church: witchcraft, magic, infantile and superstitious chanting, relic-worship, secrecy, despondency, hostility toward society, and an unhealthy despondency. Therefore, if there is any religion now existing in the world which is accused of such crimes - of gross superstition and borrowing occult practices, scrupulous and legalistic in its ethical demands, obsessed with the final judgment of our earthly behavior, interfering with the pleasantries of life, brainwashing its converts, shameless proselytism, anti-social behavior, dividing families and friends, guilty of conspiracy, intrigue, and inhumanity, even the instrument of the devil himself, derided by all parts of society, the converts of which are looked upon with suspicion, pity, and disgust - such a religion is not unlike Christianity as it first came forth in the world.

The Church of the fourth century was wracked by the competing claims of heretical sects. Often, as in the case of the Donatists or Arians, the Catholic Church itself was outnumbered, and her enemies seemed to be in a better position to claim to be the 'true' Church. Yet, amidst all this confusion one mark of the Church stood clear -- her catholicity. The sects, however vast and powerful, remained nonetheless divided, localized, and independent; the Church alone was universal. These sects, discordant and hostile to one another, were united only in their hatred of the true Church. Even the heretics themselves were forced to admit the one unique feature of this Church, the title of 'catholic.' Other sects went by the names of their founders (e.g., Apollinarians), yet none pretended to call themselves 'catholic.' Since the time of Christ, only one church dared call itself by this title. The Church Fathers were not slow to pick up on this title; they taught consistently that only that Church which was the same in every nation and place could be considered Christian. This Church has never gone by any other name but 'Catholic.' Although the sects might be everywhere, they were never the same in even two places, but always tended toward independence, factions, and contradiction. Thus, if there is a community today which is distinguished by its complex organization, its universality and presence in every nation, and yet also for its unity in each of these nations, called 'catholic' by the world, whose enemies continually divide and subdivide amongst themselves and join only in accusing it of apostasy, and it remains the same in all ages, such a community is not unlike the Catholic Church of the fourth century.

The Church of the fourth and fifth centuries again faced great and numerous heresies, which often rose to such prominence that they outnumbered, overpowered, and expelled the Catholic Church in many areas of the world. Since its inception, however, this Catholic Church had always been distinguishable by its unique connection to the See of Rome, to which the Church Fathers as well as pagan observers attest. At the council of Ephesus under Dioscorus of Alexandria, the doctrine of Monophysitism was publicly embraced, as that which had always been held by the saints and the consensus of the Fathers, as that which was true to the council of Nicea and to the canon of Scripture, and as that which, even now, had the authority of an ecclesiastical council of the Church's bishops. Yet only one man stood alone against the tide of history - Leo, the Bishop of Rome. Only Leo, seated in the chair of Peter, had the power and audacity to withstand this heresy. For all respected his authority, and, once he had spoken and acted with the supremest audacity, the Eastern bishops began, one by one, to cross over to the side of Leo, claiming 'Peter has spoken through Leo!' Thus, we see that a doctrine which was repudiated by six hundred bishops and all of Christendom, which went against the alleged testimony of the Church Fathers and Scripture itself, and which the Creed itself did not contain, was forced upon the Church by the Pope of the day and this doctrine we accept today as Apostolic. Thus, if there is a community today which is spread over all the world, and yet with varying measures of prominence, standing firm on doctrinal issues which others have long since rejected, whose own leaders are often corrupt and outmatched in virtue by the heretics they condemn, struggling with heresy and negligence within its own body, and yet answering to only one Name, one Voice, one See - that of Peter and that of Rome - it is not unlike the Christianity of the fifth and sixth centuries.

# posted by Jamie : 1:30 PM


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