Meditations for Layfolks - The Catholicity of the Church

The Church that Christ came to found was to teach truth. By that single sentence alone can be proved all the prerogatives that Catholics claim for their Church, for to teach truth in matters of such moment requires the gift of inerrancy, i.e. the gift of teaching without error the truths that are necessary for salvation; the gift of indefectibility, i.e. the gift of teaching without ceasing till the end of all the world. To deliver the message of Christ means to preach as one having authority, to tell men how by doctrine they are to arrive at the same life that He had lived. But not merely has this Church to appeal with authority and without ceasing till the end of time; she has also to deliver the glad tidings to the whole race. If the Catholic Church is indeed the Church of Christ, she cannot be a national church; she cannot entertain so narrow a view of her mission. If there is one thing more than another that our Lord was most insistent upon in His lifetime, it was that His religion was not intended for one people only, but for all the world. The Pharisees hunted Him to death chiefly for the reason that He entirely repudiated the restriction of the Kingdom of God to those souls only who could boast of descent from Abraham. He scandal ized them over and over again by His appeal to a wider audience than those merely that worshipped upon the Temple-Mount. All their creeds He came to fulfil, to include them in this new faith, this grain of mustard seed, this leaven, which should affect the whole race of man. He broke through all the divisions of language, or birth, or previous prejudice, and would gather into one all the children of men.

Now it is just this that the Catholic Church has been able to achieve. She has gone out into the world, and has deliberately invited all to the new faith of Christ. At first there was some discussion, as we learn from the Scriptures, and it was necessary that the first Pope (Saint Peter) should be convinced by a vision before he would agree to allow those converted from paganism the full fellowship of the Christian name; but thence onward all nations found a home within her. She has travelled the whole world over, not as the Church of a nation (for so to label oneself is to repudiate the teaching of our Lord), but as the Catholic Church. She is the Church of all peoples, of all times, of all the ages of man. She has gone to strange countries, not simply to settle there for the benefit of passing merchants, but to take her place in the life of the nations. Then, within the limits of each people, she affects the individuals as well. She is the Church for the children, the Church for the poor, the Church for the old, the Church for the young. The learned find her dogmas wonderful as the flashing brightness of the radiance of God: the simple discover that her doctrine and her practices make life intelligible, though not comprehensible. For each, what ever his state or age or capacity, she has her way of good; for she is Catholic in every sense of that wide-meaning word: nothing escapes her. And, even more splendid still, she has gathered together all that is best in all the religions of the world. There is no practice of hers and no belief that cannot be found elsewhere, yet nowhere else are they all put together and formed by the swift revelation of God into a picture, towards a portion of which each people has groped its way since ever the world began.

The Church is Catholic. To that Church I myself belong Catholic, then, must be the whole temper of my mind. There must be in me none of that narrowness that would limit the spirit of God to one single fashion, nor would grudge my neighbour his own way of achieving the purpose of his existence. The liberty I claim for myself I should gladly concede to others; for, after all, the Church is large enough to include all. If every nation under heaven can find protection under its shadow, who am I to dictate to my brother how he should serve God? There is the obvious limit of the Catholic faith; beyond that, indeed, there is salvation for the children of men, for the simple reason that God does not bind Himself to give grace only in one way. God, however, wills that all men should come to the knowledge of the truth, and it is the duty of a Christian to bring as many as possible within that fold of Christ. Within the Church there is also the dogmatic teaching which none may with safety deny; she is the teacher from God, and to whom else can we turn? But apart from these fixed truths, there are paths and bypaths which each can follow for himself. Yet the self-centred spirit of man is too easily persuaded that it alone has found the perfect way, not realizing that what is the way of one need not be the way of another; for it is in the power of God to lead me individually to Himself by a path singled out from all eternity that I, and I alone, shall take. My past is as the past of none other, and my future must be unique as well. Let me, then, be wide-minded enough not to question or be scandalized in my brother. His conscience is lit up by the glory of God, and that should be enough for me. The silly parochialism that would reduce all to one dead level has no part or lot in the kingdom of God. I must not grudge others their own way, nor seek to drive them into my own; for Catholicism means the freedom of the children of God.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.