"One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic." (Friendly Friday Post, by David Ozab)

"One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic." (Friendly Friday Post, by David Ozab) May 13, 2011

I am excited to have a post here by David Ozab. He is a writer and recently converted to Roman Catholicism. While I do not share his convictions, certainly it is beneficial to hear from others outside of our own sphere of experience. I am pleased to have his guest contribution on the blog…

Vaticanphoto © 2005 Jo N | more info (via: Wylio)


There was once a guy who was stranded on a deserted island. After many years, a passing ship found him. As he showed the crew around the island, they were amazed at the many structures he had built for himself:

“So what is that building?”

“That’s my house.”

“And that one over there?”

“My shower and my outhouse.”

“And the oval area over there?”

“A track that I run around daily.”

“And the big building with the steeple?”

“That’s my church.”

The crew looked puzzled. “If that’s your church, then what’s the bigger building with the even taller steeple?”

“That’s the church I used to belong to.”

An old joke that illustrates an ever older problem: schism.

As a former Protestant I can tell you that the witness of Protestantism has always been, (with apologies to Martin Luther, as this wasn’t his intent): “Here I stand . . . and there I go, right out the door to start my own church.” First there was a single Protestant movement, then Luther and Zwingli disagreed over the Eucharist and we got the Lutheran and the Reformed traditions, then some folks thought only adults should be baptized and thus came the Anabaptists. Each disagreement brought a new split and each split created a new denomination. Today there are over a thousand and they just keep splitting. The inevitable result: one billion churches with one member each.

If I wasn’t such a “catholic” at heart, I’d be happy with the First (and Only) Church of David Ozab. No messy disagreements, no cheesy music, and no getting up early for church. I’d attend “St. Mattress by the Bedsprings” each Sunday morning, and if I happened to fall asleep no one would poke me in the ribs. But I know I am called to something else: communion.

When I first felt that call ten years ago, I returned to the church of my baptism: the Episcopal Church. At first it seemed like the perfect place for me. It allowed me to grow in my “lower-case” catholic faith within a context that helped me avoid harder questions. I could put aside differences with the Vatican over clerical celibacy, women’s ordination, contraception, and marriage equality, and keep the aspects of the Catholic faith I liked—the Blessed Virgin, the saints, the Eucharist, the rosary, incense, holy water, etc. “All of pageantry; none of the guilt” is a running joke among liberal Episcopalians.

But was it enough? I kept coming back to the Creed, and specifically to the Four Marks of the Church: “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.” I said those words every Sunday, but did they apply to my own church?

Holy? Yes. I’ve met many holy men and women through my church—as I have through every Christian denomination. They are as flawed and sinful as I am, yet I could see the Holy Spirit working through them, bringing them and the people around them closer to God.

Catholic? Yes. Not only is Anglicanism spread across the world, it is spread across time through the liturgy. Every day, when I said the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, and every week, when I attended the celebration of the Eucharist, I prayed together with Christians around the world and throughout time—using the same words that have been said (in English, Latin, or Greek) for almost two thousand years.

Apostolic? Maybe. I knew the validity of Anglican orders had been denied by Rome, but as an Anglican I was used to ignoring the Pope. I also knew that we alone among Protestants had preserved the ordained ministries of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons as an essential part of our tradition.

One? No. Like all the churches born of the Reformation, Anglicanism began in schism and multiplies through schism. REC, ACC, APK, ACNA, etc— an alphabet soup of continuing churches.

“Here I stand . . . and out I go.” Over and over again.

And where was the one place that I found the Four Marks of the Church? In the only communion in Western Christianity that for all its faults takes Christ’s command to “love one another as I have loved you”* seriously: the Catholic Church.

So, after much prayer and discernment, I decided to become Catholic, and at Easter I was received into full communion.

At the height of the Reformation, the Church had few critics more severe than Desiderius Erasmus. Yet to the disappointment of Luther, he refused to leave. His eloquent reason expresses the love all Catholics share for this most holy, yet most human of institutions:

“I will put up with this Church until I see a better one; and it will have to put up with me, until I become better.”**

Here we stand; we can do no other. God help us all.


*John 15:12 ** Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation, p. 152

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  • I do agree with the fact that Protestants have fallen into an unfortunate habbit of splitting off and creating new “denominations” based on sometimes trivial matters.  At the same time I dispute the fact that the Roman Catholic church represents the same “continuous broken line” back to St. Peter.  Aski the Eastern Orthodox churches what the true “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” church is and they will claim themselves. 

    I suppose people smarter then I could agrue for years (as they have) on what format of worship and hierarchal structure a Church should have.  A lot of the practices, beliefs, and methedology was established centuries after the death of Christ.

    I also take issue with the idea that Protestant churches are not One.  It was clear from St. Paul’s letters to many churches in the ancient world that they all had their own customs, practices, styles, and languages.  The churches in Greece and those in Middle East were not alike…St. Paul clearly wanted to stress certain “universal truth’s” about the nature and authority of Christ, and Christian living.  The church in Rome grew in power and influence due to its centrality in the ancient world.  If Christ had come in the 21st Century, Washington D.C. might be considered the modern “Rome”…. 

  • I want to say that even though I have some theological concerns with Rome and certainly would be weary of the intensity of structure, there is something to be said about the historical continuity it has.  I am not sure it is “the” church, as it failed to live up to this vocation many times in history.  But it does have something mystical to it that us protestants and radical reformers may miss out on.  David, this was a wonderful article!

  •  As someone who was baptized Catholic, raised far from Catholicism, and then came into full communion during my college years, I have to say thanks for posting.  In the four years I worked as a youth minister in the Catholic church I unfortunately experienced some of the ugliest stuff in church life there is to experience so I’m currently not active in a Catholic church but I do miss it more than I care to admit.  In time, as my heart heals and I learn to trust again, I know I’ll find my way back home.  In the meantime, I appreciate stories like this which remind me of the beauty which I came to love deeply in the Catholic faith.

    I also LOVED the story at the start.  So sad, so funny, so true of today’s Christianity.  My prayer is that someday we might be able to focus on what we have in common rather than what divides.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • For all of those reasons I flirted with Rome.  The best stuff was by Thomas Howard, but I read other “conversion” stories, too.  I was so glad that I did…discovering the beauty of liturgy and sacrament, the wisdom of the early church fathers.  But I did not convert, and part of it has to do with the understanding of the creed put forth here.

    What is it that makes the Roman Catholic church “one”?  Is it that each parish calls itself Roman Catholic?  Is it the claims to apostolic succession?  Is it doctrinal?  Confessional?  Creedal?  Let’s not confuse the sacramental unity that we re-enact through baptism, communion, liturgy, lectionary, ordination, etc. for those acts themselves.  Unity is presupposed for all those baptized into Christ.  There is only one Holy Spirit, one God and Father of all.  Unity is a gift from God in Christ (http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/2011/03/30/embittering-the-eucharist/), and no amount of ecclesial tradition will create it.  In many ways, the Roman Catholic church in the United States is just as independent and contentious as her Protestant sisters (http://brandon.multics.org/library/Bill%20Cavanaugh/cavanaugh2003odds.html).  And let’s not forget that a huge amount of Christians who go by the name Orthodox feel that Rome pulled away from Catholicism five centuries before the Reformation by misunderstanding the Trinity, allowing a later “corruption” of the creed become standard.

    In regards to apostolic, I think the definition needs to be theologically deeper than merely the laying on of hands.  Is “Apostolic” really only about succession by ordination?  Or is it, like unity, something deeper?  A unity that comes from being “sent” (which is what the word means) on mission by the Holy Spirit?  Apostolic probably has more to do with missionary activity and evangelizing than with a bishop family tree.

    I really wanted to swim the Tiber…I did.  Who knows?  Maybe I will someday.  But a skepticism towards the Reformation, towards modernist individualism, and a healthy love of tradition and beauty and even the Pope as head bishop need not mean that you convert to Roman Catholicism.  There are many brilliant Catholic theologians that would agree.

  • “Where was the one place that I found the Four Marks of the Church?… the Catholic Church” – I’ll one up you brother, try the only true and original Church that meets the four marks better then the Catholic Church – infected as it is with “Westernism” – try the light from the Orthodox East. The Church of Rome is considered the “First Among Equals” by them, if only it would reunited with the other Patriarchs: Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople rather than continue in it’s schismatic ways.here was the one place that I found the Four Marks of the Church?… the Catholic Church” – I’ll one up you brother, try the only true and original Church that meets the four marks better then the Catholic Church – infected as it is with “Westernism” – try the light from the Orthodox East. The Church of Rome is considered the “First Among Equals” by them, if only it would reunited with the other Patriarchs: Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople rather than continue in it’s schismatic ways.

  • Kim Johnson

    I was raised Southern Baptist and Catholic. Try that one on!! 🙂 I quit attending the S.B. church when I was 13 and went exclusively Catholic. I love the Catholic church. I love high church. I love the Eucharist. I now attend an Episcopal church and I am happy. I call it Catholic lite.

    Thank you for your post. It was lovely.

  • Eriknhadden

    Thanks for the blog! Great to hear your story.

    I’ve been on a similar journey but it has taken me to the Orthodox. After carefully looking Roman Catholicism (and having close evangelical friends that converted to the RC church) and carefully looking at the issues of the Great Schism in 1054 AD it seemed clear to me… 

    Blessings to you! As @2cf139d20ad5cd15252a779c6dd0b1cd:disqus said, check out the light from the Orthodox East 🙂

  • While I respect your pilgrimage, I have to say that the one thing which causes me categorically reject the claim of the Roman Catholic church is its authoritarian claim that it is the “one true church.”  This error is not unique to R.C., for sure…I have attended independent fundamental Bible churches that were convinced they were the one true church too!  LOL

    The unity Christ preached, I believe, was not about authority at all.  It was entirely about behavior.  At their best–and I have personally experienced this–Catholics and Orthodox and Baptists and Mennonites can work together to love their neighbor in the name of Jesus, and then gather together to praise Jesus in common worship afterwards.  This, I believe, is the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17…and it has nothing whatsoever to do with ecclesiastical structure and everything to do with Jesus’ people acting like the brothers and sisters they are in him.

    I will believe Rome wants unity when they extend the right hand of fellowship to all who seek to serve Jesus in spirit and truth, not merely those who acknowledge their “apostolic” authority.  Till then, I hope Rome will at least continue to let her many children live and worship in love with their other Jesus-loving brethren.

  • Thanks, everyone, for reading and responding. Allow me to touch upon some of the points you’ve each raised:

    Derek and Erik, I specified “Western Christianity” for a reason. This is the tradition I was raised in (the Anglican version thereof) and its what I know. I see great value and great beauty in Orthodoxy (and in the Eastern Catholic Churches as well) but your tradition and culture are too far removed for me to feel like anything but an outsider. That said, I pray fervently that the rift that has separated East and West for the last millennium will someday  be healed.

    Kim, I tried Catholic lite. Wasn’t enough for me, but I’m glad that you have found spiritual refreshment.

    Charismanglican, once I reached all those conclusions you listed I have no choice but to cross the Tiber. I could no longer be honest to myself and remain Anglican.

    James, many things were established centuries after the death of Christ, like the Creeds and the Canon. That’s because the Holy Spirit dwells within the Church and guides the Church. Otherwise were just a bunch of folks arguing over a two-thousand-plus year old book.

    Also, diversity in unity is possible and Catholicism demonstrates that. Not only in the particular churches outside the Latin Church, but in the wide variety of expressions of worship within the Latin Rite. I’m a traditionalist myself. I love plainchant and choirs and organs and even a Latin mass from time to time as long as I sit up front and can follow along. But even though I don’t gain much if any spiritual sustenance from Folk Masses or the charismatic movement, for example, I would be reluctant to deny their benefits to others. 

    Dan, I agree that we Christians of all confessions should continue to work and pray together as far as is possible without compromising our core beliefs. I also believe that unity, when and if it does come, will come from the bottom up not from the top down. But the unity that Christ prayed for is a visible unity in a visible community and as long as we remain divided visibly we aren’t truly united. So what am I left with? Either Jesus built his church on “the rock” and the gates of hell have not prevailed or ??? (I’m not sure how else to answer that.)

    Sara, I understand what you’ve been through. My wife (raised Catholic) had an unfortunate experience several years ago that has made it difficult for her to want to go back. After that, we both went to an Episcopal Church, were married there, had our daughter baptized there, but then had an unfortunate experience that made us feel unwelcome. It’s not just the Catholic Church that has faults—all churches are filled with flawed, sinful human beings. 

    But there are good people too, people who, despite their own flaws, try their best to be Christlike. When the time came for me to join the Catholic Church, we had one huge hurdle to overcome—we had to have our marriage blessed. This was something that upset and angered both of us, but we were told it was the only way. We met with the Rector of our Parish and explained our feelings (my wife got so upset she had to step out of his office for a few moments). And do you know what happened? Based on our commitment to one another and how seriously we took our vows, he said that our marriage was obviously valid, and  he waived the requirement. “I can’t force you to do something that so clearly goes against your conscience.”

    He wasn’t just our priest that day. He was our pastor. I am so grateful to him, and to God for putting him and us in the right place at the right moment.

    Thanks again everyone. I know we agree on much of what we’ve discussed, but we can continue to talk to one another, to listen, and to keep each other in our prayers.

    God bless you all.

    • David, may I offer a possible “or ???”

      If the “rock” Jesus built his church on was not Peter himself, but rather Peter’s confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the son of the living God,” then the unity you describe is manifested by two things:  confession of Christ as Lord, and our love for each other (the latter being a highly visible–and unusual–thing).  Neither of these things requires organizational unity, and it certainly does not require submission to a hierarchy.  The tragedy in this debate (to me at least) is the message I hear from Rome, which is “sure, you can all be one with us when you recognize we’re the boss.”  That may not be the intended message, but it’s what I hear, and to me it flies in the face of the unique and sole lordship of Jesus Christ.

      Nevertheless, I have personal experience with Roman Catholic brothers and sisters who have treated me (and I them) as true brethren in the faith.  I would submit that sort of visible fellowship despite our known differences was a loud and beautiful message of unity to outside observers.

      • Hey Dan, first off let me say that I consider you and all my Protestant brothers and sisters as true  (though separated) brethren. It is essential that we treat each other with Charity (as in Caritas or Agape) in order to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel.

        My point was about the church and if Jesus hadn’t intended to build his church as one church, what did he mean. I’ve tried to understand the church as an invisible community only, and I’ve tried to understand it through the Anglican approach known as “Branch Theory.” Neither sets with me. There is a visible Christian community that goes back to the Upper Room at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has dwelt within that community ever since and because of that the gates of hell have not prevailed. 

        Peter as the rock is another subject, but it’s through the combination of that verse, the following verse about the “Power of the Keys” and the unbroken tradition associating Peter with the See of Rome, that I see the Petrine Charism of the Pope as the heart of the Church. (Got to give Garry Wills credit for the term “Petrine Charism.”)

        I have had the same struggle you did with Rome as “boss.” That’s what kept me Anglo-Catholic for the last ten years. The point came, though, when I realized that despite the difficulties I still had (those listed in my post—I’m still wrestling with them BTW), I could no longer deny the call to visible unity. Two things helped me out in this last step. 1) A quote by John Henry Newman” “A thousand difficulties do not equal one doubt.”—I still had difficulties, but no more doubts. 2) The humility to accept that two thousand years worth of Church Fathers, and Popes, and bishops, and countless holy men and women may be right and I may be wrong. 

        • You know what, David, I really appreciate the spirit in which you say all this.  I have no doubt you and I would get great joy breaking bread and sharing a beverage of choice in a conversation like this!

          Being of the branch of “heresy” that’s one of the few things Protestants and Catholics agreed on in the 16th century (by which I mean the Anabaptists…both agreed we had to die) I’m afraid the chasms I’d have to cross to join up are just too great, but I will always appreciate and lift up my small-c and big-C Catholic brethren.  I celebrate the fact that you found peace, which is exactly what I wish upon you!

          •  Thanks. May the Peace of Christ be with you as well.