The Continuity of the Catholic Church
The Most Reverend Duane G. Hunt D.D.


It may be taken for granted that liberal theologians, perhaps best identified as Modernists, would find in these pages of mine, if they take the trouble to read them, substantiation of their accusation that the Catholic Church is living in the past and is unwilling to adapt to conditions of the modern world. What is needed, they would say, is not the reaffirmation of doctrines nineteen centuries old but points of view and policies which are new, preferably with the absence of formal and precise creeds. Although this accusation is not pertinent to my present thesis, I conclude with a brief comment about it.

I have said and now repeat that there has been and can be no change in the essential features of the Gospel as taught by our divine Lord and His Apostles. But this fidelity does not mean that the Church is static and unresponsive to the changing needs of a changing world. To the contrary, the Church is always trying to adapt herself. She makes progress in two very important respects, first, in the application of the Gospel and second, in the improvement of definitions.

Day by day, as opportunity permits, the Church seeks to apply her treasury of faith to the ills and needs of mankind. Evidence of this adaptation can be seen all about us in this country and in other free countries, where under normal conditions progress is constant. In countries dominated by enemies, however, such as Communists, there is no opportunity for progress. All that the Church can do is exist, while she waits and prays.

Concerning the improvements of definitions of doctrines: These are made from time to time as demanded by new experiences. They testify both to constancy and improvement, constancy of beliefs and improvement in statement.

Let it be admitted frankly that there are Catholic communities in which the religious conditions are not satisfactory, there being inadequate education, worldliness, and low standards of conduct. To these faults may be added occasionally an attitude of indifference among the Catholic clergy, with failure to offer their people the uplifting leadership which is needed.

How are such facts to be correctly appraised? What do they mean relative to my subject, "Continuity of the Catholic Church"? They mean, first of all, that the clergy referred to are not performing their full duty and that they are blameworthy before God. They mean that progress in all worthy lines is retarded and that the Church herself is harmed. But what else? Do the facts mean that the Church has ceased to exist?

Let the critics select the most backward Catholic community, where conditions are the most notably weak, and even there they must acknowledge that the Church has not disappeared. The very fact that she is blamed for neglect is proof that she exists. Bishops continue to ordain priests and consecrate bishops; priests continue to say Mass, to hear confessions, to anoint the sick, and to preach to their people. In other words, the organisation of the Church exists and although feebly and inadequately, continues to function. Moreover, the doctrines of the Church, the declarations of faith, are precisely the same as in the most perfect Catholic diocese in the most Catholic country. If it be asked how the doctrines can remain unaffected by poor management and by low conditions in society, the answer is that doctrines come from above, not below. They are defined by the universal Church which, as I have already pointed out, draws them from the Apostolic Tradition, doing so under the protection of the Holy Spirit.

Under the conditions referred to, however, is there not need for reform? Most certainly. There is always need for some reform; always somewhere the need is urgent. Here we touch one remarkable characteristic of the Church. She has within herself the impulse and means for reform. And she alone can respond to that impulse. No new organisation can do it for her, precisely because no other can make itself the continuance of the Apostolic Church.

The Catholic Church, for her part, needs only look into her constitution and her own ideals; she needs only draw upon her own spiritual resources to find the program of reform. She has done this very thing many times in the past, perhaps the greatest example for us of this country being that of the Council of Trent. There, reacting to the shock of the Protestant revolution and the expose' of mistakes in policy and looseness in conduct, the Catholic bishops undertook sweeping reforms. It is worthy of note that they did not change any doctrine; to the contrary, they reaffirmed all that had come to them from their predecessors. What they did was to eliminate abuses in administration, to put an end to irregular means of soliciting funds, and to compel a stiffening in discipline among laity and clergy. Had the reforms been made a century earlier there would have been no Protestantism.

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