The Church

One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

by Wibisono Hartono

The word "Church" means assembly. It generally refers to an assembly of people for a religious purpose.  Catholics believe that Jesus instituted the Church, which He inaugurated when He started preaching about the coming of the Kingdom of God.  The seed of the Church starts with His first followers, His little flock (Luke 12:32), which He refers to as His sheep, and He is the shepherd (John 10:1-16).  During His time on earth, Jesus limited His mission only among the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6 and 15:24).  Representing the twelve tribes of Israel, He chose His twelve disciples or apostles.  However, Jesus did not hesitate to welcome non-Jewish believers, like the Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10) and the Samaritans (John 4:1-41).  In fact, He looked forward to gathering other sheep (John 10:16) and after His resurrection commissioned His disciples to go to all nations to make them His disciples (Matthew 28:19).  Jesus gave His twelve disciples the authority over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1), the authority to forgive sins (John 20:23) and even the authority to bind and to loose (Matthew 18:18).  He promised to be with them to the end of age (Matthew 28:20) and to send the Holy Spirit to guide them (John 14:16, 26).  The coming of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).  Since that day the seed of His Church has been growing (Acts 2:41) and has been welcoming non-Jewish believers (Acts 10) as He predicted (Matthew 13:31-32 and John 12:32).  According to Acts 11:26, Jesus followers were first called "Christians" in Antioch.

The Bible refers to the Church as Christ's Body (Colossians 1:18), of which He is the Head. The Church is also the Bride of Christ (John 3:29) to which He is Bridegroom (Mark 2:19).  Quoting from the Nicene Creed, Catholics profess their belief in the Church:

We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church

The words “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” are known as the marks of the Church.  The Church is one because she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms one Body, is given life by one Spirit for the sake of one hope (CCC #866). 

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6 (emphasis added)

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:13 (emphasis added)

I [Jesus] do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I am in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me.  The glory which thou has given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.

John 17:20-23 (emphasis added)

We have to admit that at present there is no full unity among Christians.  The first split took place in 431 when those who rejected the decree of the (ecumenical) Council of Ephesus broke away to form The Assyrian Church of the East (mostly known as Nestorian). Then in the sixth century those who did not accept the decree of ecumenical council at Chalcedon in 451 separated themselves to form Non-Chalcedonian or Oriental churches (Armenian, Coptic, Erithrean, Ethiopian, Syrian Antioch and Syrian Malabar).  In the great schism in 1054 the Eastern Orthodox Church broke away from the Catholic Church.  Finally in the sixteenth century Reformation, Luther, Calvin and Zwingli left the Catholic Church to form their Protestant churches, which later disintegrated into the rest of the “Bible only” churches.  The Catholic Church declares that the Church instituted by Jesus subsists in the Catholic Church (CCC # 816).

We believe that the Church is holy because Jesus, the bridegroom of the Church wants her to be holy.

that he [Jesus] might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Ephesians 5:27 (emphasis added)

Because the Church is holy then all her members are called saints or holy ones (Acts 9:13, 1 Corinthians 6:1, 16:1) and God calls them to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  Most Catholics and non-Catholics think that the title “saint” in the Catholic Church is applied only to special persons, those who led a holy life, had miracles attributed to him/her and were canonized by the Church.  However, CCC # 823 clearly states that the Church is the Holy people of God and her members are called saints.  The Catholic Church does recognize canonized saints by solemnly proclaiming that they practised heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace (CCC # 828). 

One might point out that there are members of the Church, including the clergy and even popes, who did not, do not, and will not lead a holy life.  Does it contradict the statement that the Church is holy?  The Church welcomes everyone to be her members and we are all sinners (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8-10).  In His parable of the good seeds and weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) Jesus predicted that evil people (the weeds) planted by the devil  (verse 39) would join the Church together with the saints (good seed).  Only at the end of age (verses 40-42) then the Church, who is the bride of Christ, will be cleansed and will be presented as the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2).

The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace.  If they live her life, her members are sanctified; if they move away from her life, they fall into sins and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity.

CCC # 827

The word “catholic” means universal and was first used to address the Church by Ignatius (in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans Chapter 8), bishop of Antioch (died c. 107 AD).  The Church is catholic because (1) Christ who sits at the right hand of God, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion (Ephesians 1:21) is present in her as her Head and because (2) He sent her on a mission to the whole human race (Matthew 28:19).  Finally the Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles (Ephesians 2:20, Revelation 21:14) and she continues transmitting what those apostles received from Christ until His Second Coming, through the guidance of their successors (the college of bishops) in union with the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter.

Wibisono Hartono
The Catholic Legate
November 17, 2002


  1. Ferguson. E. (Editor): Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York, second edition, 1998.
  2. McManners, J. (Editor): The Oxford History of Christianity, Oxford University Press, 1993.