THE CATHOLIC CHURCH:
ITS ORIGIN; ITS CONSTITUTION; ITS ATTRIBUTES AND PREROGATIVES
WHAT does the Catholic Church say of herself? Stand forth, O great and mysterious Catholic Church! Answer this solemn question. Stand forth and tell us who thou art, and whence thou hast come; tell us why thou art here; we call thee forth, not as Samuel called forth Saul from the dead ; because we know, and every one in the world knows, that thou art living and strong, and vigorous and youthful, and mighty as a giant. We call thee forth, not as Jesus called forth Lazarus, nor as He called forth the daughter of Jairus, for we know that no winding-sheet was ever needed to enwrap thy body, for the simple reason that thou hast never died since thou didst first appear in the world twenty centuries ago. We call thee forth as the most remarkable religious or-ganization on earth, as the most trustworthy exponent of thine own doctrines, as the living witness of what they have been since the first moment of thy existence until now.
We call thee forth, then, O Catholic Church, whom we find wherever we may go, overspreading the earth, encircling the globe, penetrating into the forests of unknown lands, claim ing as thy children every nation under the sun ; every clime and tongue; every race and color; claiming the Negro, the red Indian, the Malayan, the Mongolian, and the White; whom we find raising thy banner and symbol, the Cross, wherever thou dost set thy foot. Tell us, thou, whom we meet in every European land; throughout America; in darkest Africa; at the foot of the Himalayas, along the Ganges, the Chinese rivers, the wilds of Siberia, and down in the far- off isles of the South Sea tell us, we adjure thee, in the name of the living God, to answer this portentous question : Who art thou?
And slowly solemnly with majestic tread, the Catholic Church comes forth, bearing on her placid and queenly brow the laurels of the victories of nearly two thousand years. She comes, with a calm and composed look of conviction and certainty. She comes, with an expression on her countenance which signifies Faith, and Hope, and Charity. In a voice whose thrilling tones are well-known to all the world, because it has been heard for centuries, she an- swers. And these are her words. Hear them:
“I am the Bride of Christ. I am that mystic Spouse which, according to the testimony of the beloved disciple, came forth from the side and heart of Jesus in the throes of His death agony. I am that Spouse whom He loved according to the testimony of the Apostle, for whom He de livered Himself, cleansing her in the laver of water, through the Word of Life. I am the holy city, the New Jerusalem, which was seen, says St. John in the Apocalypse, coming down out of heaven from God.
“I am that Society, that Church which Christ the Lord founded when He called the Apostles, formed them into a college, and placed Peter over them as their head. I am that Church of whom He said, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I am that Church to whom He said, Go forth and teach all nations as the Father hath sent Me, so also I send you; He that heareth you, heareth Me ; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me.
But tell us, mysterious Catholic Church, how can you put forth this extraordinary and exclusive right to be, in very deed and truth, that Church which the Apostles gov erned, over which Peter ruled, and which Christ the Lord founded? Has not every institution, every work of man, perished and fallen into decrepitude and decay? You are young ! And yet you claim to be the only Church founded by Christ, while there are numerous other bodies claim ing the same glorious inheritance.
She answers. Hear her answer: “Just as this nation accounts its years by the terms of its successive Presidents, just as this nation claims to be the very self-same nation and republic with that over which the illustrious Washing ton presided; so I, through the long and uninterrupted line of Popes, with every one of whom I was personally acquainted, and every one of whom left some words written on the pages of my history, to mark his day and his place in it, so I claim to be that Church over which presided Peter, the first Pope, and Linus next, and Cletus next, and Clement, and so on down to the present.
“Hence, I am the only witness in the world of the great mystery of the Redemption of man. I alone heard Jesus speak; I alone walked and talked with Him by the banks of the Jordan, by the shores of the lake of Genesareth, by the waters of Galilee. I alone saw His miracles, heard Him call forth Lazarus from the dead. I alone saw Him restore sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. I alone saw Him weep over the sins of men and rejoice over the inno cence of childhood.
“I alone sat with Him at the Last Supper, and partook of the Bread which He held in His blessed hands on that memorable night, and blessed and gave to His disciples. I drank of the mystic chalice which He left to the world as the last pledge of His love. “I alone, of all the world, stood by the cross, and watched His precious blood trickle down its sides. I stood by His new-made grave, watched for His Resurrection, and met Him at dawn in Galilee on that first Easter morning. And dur ing the next forty days He committed to me various charges which I have since had to undertake and fulfil.
“Lastly, He gave me my full commission, and sent me forth into the world among men, when He sent the Holy Ghost upon me on the day of Pentecost twelve days after His Resurrection.”
But you are human ! If you are human, why have you not had the same fate as all other human institutions ?
She answers: Hear her answer: “I represent Christ, my Spouse, in this world. I perpetuate His Incarnation, and its beneficent effects. Christ was human, but He was not merely human, He was also divine, having the two natures, the divine and the human, in one and the same divine person.
“So I, though composed of human beings, which are my members, am divine in my Head, who is Jesus Christ; divine in my life, which is the grace and the power He gave me, and divine in the Spirit which animates and dwells in me, which Spirit is the Holy Ghost, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. “
According to the promise and words of my divine Founder: And I will ask the Father and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever, the Spirit of truth . . . the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name. He will teach you all things (St. John xiv. 16, 17, 26). This is the secret of my life. This is why you find me strong and youthful and vigorous, yes, even more majestic than ever. “This is why, at no period of my history, could the words of the great Protestant historian and essayist, Lord Macaulay, be applied with more appropriateness than to-day, when he says that, My history goes back until it is lost, as it were, in the twilight of fable. I was great and respected before the Frank had crossed the Rhine; when Grecian eloquence flourished at Antioch ; when tigers and camelopards bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre.
“I am sending forth my missionaries now with the same zeal that I did St. Augustine to England, St. Patrick to Ireland ; St. Fridolin and St. Boniface to Germany ; and St. Columbanus to the countries of southern Europe. I am con fronting hostile kings now, as I did Attila. I am stretch ing forth my hands to-day to guide and aid the weak against the tyranny of the strong and powerful, just as I protected the vassals of the feudal barons from the oppression of their masters; I am defending the honor and the virtue and the dignity of woman to-day, just as I did at all times in my career since the day that I raised her up from the degrada tion into which paganism had cast her.”
But, Catholic Church of this twentieth century, let us meet each other face to face. I adjure you, by the living God, to tell us how you can claim to be the only and identical Church founded by Christ, when so many other bodies around you claim to be Christians and legitimate heirs to the same privileges.
She answers. Hear her words : “I am the only form of Christianity which has not been made by man. I have al ready told you how I was made and fashioned and sent out into the world among men by Christ Himself. No man, from the very first moment of my existence, has ever dared to question my origin or to suggest the name of any man as my founder.
“Every other form of Christian belief claims man for its author, and knows full well his name; knows the cir cumstances of his life, his works, and the reason of his projecting his new special form of belief. I possess every truth and every fragment of truth which every form of Christianity possesses, and over and beyond that, I possess other truths, equally sacred, which they have lost.
“Whatever they possess of truth they have taken from my lips and have kept of my teachings. I resemble in my career the march of a great army, bearing as most sacred the commission of its Commander-in-Chief from one point to another. The march is long and tedious and weary, and some grow tired and rebellious, and drop by the way; and some desert; and some go over to the enemy, and endeavor to betray the army into his hands. But the great body of the army is faithful ; weary and footsore it may be, but con scious of right and the fulfillment of duty until the end is reached.
“I am that army. I set out on my journey on the morn ing of Pentecost bearing to all men the message of my Chief. The footsteps of my Spouse and Captain and Com mander had scarcely disappeared from the earth when some in the ranks already began to rebel. And all along that weary march some have fallen and rebelled and deserted even to this day. First came those who, because of the superlative virtue of Christ, denied that He had human nature at all. They saw His life, and knew that of all the children of men who had ever come into this world, He alone could and did challenge them to convict Him of sin.
Which of you can convince Me of sin? He claimed to be God. They accepted the claim and acknowledged it, but denied what was as essential to the Redemption, and what was equally true, namely, that He was man. Next came those who, while they acknowledged His humanity, denied He was God. They, too, fell by the way, and were left be hind in the march. Next came the Nestorians, who denied the unity of the person of Christ; these were left behind. Next came the Eutychians or Monophysites, who denied the dual nature of the Redeemer. Next came the great Schisms of the East and the West. “Time went on. I continued on my march, and lost few, comparatively, until the sixteenth century. Then occurred that revolt, which, of all others, swept away the greatest number of my army. But these, too, shared the sad fate of those who had preceded them.
“I remain the self-same, compact and strong as ever in spirit and in courage; gaining in numbers as the generations arise, and as men begin anew to see that I am the only cus todian of Christ s teaching, and the guarantee of order, of law, and of happiness both here and hereafter.
“I am known among all men, because all those who be long to me are one in Faith, one in communion, one in doctrine, one in Sacraments, and in the mystic Sacrifice of our altars. One body, animated by one spirit, under one head and shepherd, and guided by one authority. The marks by which I am known and distinguished are so clear and so distinct and so entirely mine that I can never be mistaken for any other denomination whatsoever.
“The principles which guide me are unalterable. They are the revelation of God. They are entrusted to me and while I guard them jealously, to change them I have no power. Political principles may change; the principles of natural science may change ; the principles of social economy, all other principles in the world may change, but I remain the same, necessarily, the self-same Catholic Church. Founded upon a rock I was placed here for all time, and
for all mankind, forever and forever.”
for all mankind, forever and forever.”
Monsignor Thaddeus J. Hogan, Sermons Doctrinal and Moral (1915)
For over forty years until his death in 1918, Monsignor Hogan was a parish priest and pastor in Trenton, New Jersey. For many years he was Pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Trenton.