The Continuity of the Catholic Church
To offer historical confirmation for the fulfillment of our Lord's promises may seem to smack of sacrilege, implying as it does some reason of necessity. In the very nature of things there can be no necessity. Nothing in the human juggling of history can logically be weighed against the clear statements of Christ which, in and by themselves, are sufficient. Such is the persistence of the opposition to the Church, however, that the facts of history must be explored from time to time in order to demonstrate that they fit perfectly with our Lord's promises.
Let me explain. If the continuity of the Catholic Church be not a fact of history, it follows that the original Church came to an end and that some time afterwards the present Catholic Church was organised. If these were real events, and not mere figments of the imagination, the date for each, could be fixed with approximate accuracy and certainty. Each would have a clearly marked place in history. But the fact is that there is not the slightest mark or record or indication of either, a phenomenon to be pondered carefully by the critics of the Church. Once more the questions: When did the original Church come to an end? By what process? By what word or gesture from God? Would God have removed the Church from among men without telling them what he was doing? Finally, when did the present Catholic Church come into being?
Let us suppose, for example, that the year 500 is named as the end of the original Church and that the year 1000 is named as the beginning of the present Catholic Church. (Those dates are as good as any other.) The supposition vanishes at once in the face of the indisputable fact that the Church lived in every generation from the year 500 to the year 1000. The Church at each moment of time has been the continuation of the Church from the previous moment.
If any other pair of dates is named, precisely the same weakness is disclosed. There is no point when one ended and no point when the other began.
Let the same conclusion be tested by another approach. In 1937 I was consecrated Bishop of Salt Lake City by the Archbishop of San Francisco. Eleven years earlier he had been consecrated by the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, who had been similarly consecrated by a former Archbishop. For him the line of succession traces back through centuries of consecrations back finally to the Apostles and our Lord Himself. Thus there is an unbroken chain of succession from the beginning of Christianity to the present moment and to me, as to every bishop in the world. Through this chain come the functions of my office. Now if this chain upon which I depend does not go back to the first century, when I ask again, did it start? When was the present Catholic Church founded? How was it founded? By whom was it founded?
Was the Church established in this, the 20th century? Obviously not, because we know full well that it existed in the 19th century. Well, then, was it created in the 19th? Again, no, because the 18th century is full of it. For a similar reason it could not have been created in the 17th or the 16th or the 10th or the 5th or any other century other than the first. No matter what century is named as the starting point of the present Catholic Church, it is ruled out by the undeniable fact that the Church lived and functioned in the century previous, going back ultimately to the Apostles and to Christ.
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