- Catholic Church
- Distinctive Beliefs and Practices
The word "Catholic" is derived from the Greek word for "universal." In its most basic form, to be Catholic means to belong to the universal Church through faith and baptism.
Catholicism is defined as the Christian Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the Pope in the Vatican. It is the oldest and only Christian Church in existence, and usually the largest body of organized religion in the world, although at present it has been reduced to a remnant (see Great Apostasy). It traces its roots to the original Church as founded by Jesus Christ.
The cornerstone of Catholic Faith is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The faithful believe that Christ rose from the dead on the third day of his death and ascended to heaven, body and soul. Roman Catholics believe that humanity's salvation was earned through the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, and that through the Resurrection and the Ascension, He opened the gates for all humanity through baptism to enter heaven.
Perhaps the feature that separates Roman Catholicism from other denominations is their belief that the Pope can make infallible declarations when he speaks from the Chair of Peter (ex cathedra), in direct line from the Peter the first Pope, the apostle Jesus called the "rock" on whom the Church would be built. Papal Infallibility does not mean that a pope cannot err at all and it does not mean that a pope cannot lose his soul and be damned in Hell for grave sin. It means that the successors of St. Peter (the popes of the Catholic Church) cannot err when authoritatively teaching on a point of Faith or morals to be held by the entire Church of Christ. We find the promise of the unfailing faith for St. Peter and his successors referred to by Christ in Luke 22. Together with the pope, the Roman Catholic Church is governed by bishops in the College of Cardinals. Bishops or Cardinals are charged with the spiritual guidance of their communities and are spread out across the world. These communities are broken up into parishes, which are led by priests. Catholics believe that the bishops are successors of Jesus' twelve apostles.
Catholicism also calls for the belief in what it calls Divine Mysteries, some tenets of which are not accepted by other so-called Christians. Divine Mysteries include the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which states that there are three persons in one God - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. It also teaches that the Holy Eucharist is in fact the body of Christ, and not merely a symbol, the veneration of Mary as the Mother of God, the veneration of saints, and practice of the Sacraments or the Sacred Mysteries.
The Sacraments of Catholicism include Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist (receiving the communion wafer), Penance (going to Confession, Anointing of the Sick or Holy Unction), Holy Orders, and Matrimony. It is commonly believed that the sacraments build on one another. For instance, the most basic sacrament of Catholicism is that of Baptism. Without it, one cannot yet be considered to have received the Faith or be truly Called Catholic and would not be able to proceed to the other sacraments.
The term "catholic", derived from the Greek word καθολικός (katholikos) which means "universal" or "general", was first used to describe the Church in the early 2nd century. The term katholikos is equivalent to καθόλου (katholou), a contraction of the phrase καθ' ὅλου (kath' holou) meaning "according to the whole". Thus the full name Catholic Church roughly means "universal" or "whole" church.
The combination "the Catholic Church" (he katholike ekklesia) is found for the first time in the letter of St Ignatius, written about the year 110. The words run: "Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal [katholike] Church." Later, in the "Catechetical Discourses" of St. Cyril of Jerusalem we see the name "Catholic Church" to identify the church from various sects. St Cyril writes, "And if ever thou art sojourning in any city, inquire not simply where the Lord's house is—for the sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens, houses of the Lord—nor merely where the church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of the holy body the mother of us all."
Since the East-West Schism of 1054, the churches that remained in communion with the See of Rome (the diocese of Rome and its bishop, the Pope, the primal patriarch) continued to call itself "Catholic", while the Eastern churches that rejected the Pope's primal authority have generally been known as "Orthodox" or "Eastern Orthodox". Following the Reformation in the 16th century, the Church continued to use the term "Catholic" to distinguish itself from the various Protestant denominations that split off.
The fundamental beliefs of the Christian religion are summarised in the Nicene Creed. For Catholics, they are detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Based on the promises of Christ in the Gospels, the Church believes that it is continually guided by the Holy Spirit and so protected infallibly from falling into doctrinal error. The Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Spirit reveals God's truth through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium.
Sacred Scripture consists of the 73 book Catholic Bible. This is made up of the 46 books found in the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament—known as the Septuagint—and the 27 New Testament writings first found in the Codex Vaticanus Graecus (4th century) and listed in Athanasius' Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter. Sacred Tradition consists of those teachings believed by the Church to have been handed down since the time of the Apostles. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are collectively known as the "deposit of faith" (depositum fidei). These are in turn interpreted by the Magisterium (from magister, Latin for "teacher"), the Church's teaching authority, which is exercised by the Pope and the College of Bishops in union with the Pope, the bishop of Rome.
Belief that Jesus Christ is Divine, a doctrine officially clarified in the First Council of Nicea and expressed in the Nicene Creed.
Transubstantiation, the belief that the elements in the Eucharist become really, truly, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ at consecration, resulting in the Real Presence of Christ, and that, because Christ himself is present in the sacrament, he is to be honoured in it with the worship known as Eucharistic adoration.
Possession of the "threefold ordained ministry" of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.
All ministers are ordained by, and subject to, Bishops, who pass down sacramental authority by the "laying-on of hands", having themselves been ordained in a direct line of succession from the Apostles.
Belief that the Church is the vessel and deposit of the fullness of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles from which the Scriptures were formed. This teaching is preserved in both written scripture and in unwritten tradition, neither being independent of the other. (See SOLA SCRIPTURA OR SCRIPTURE ALONE REFUTED)
The use of sacred images, statues, relics, candles, vestments and music, and often incense and water, in worship.
A distinction between adoration (latria) for God, and veneration (dulia) for saints. The term hyperdulia is used for a special veneration accorded to the Virgin Mary among the saints.
The acceptance of canonizations.
Requests to the departed saints for intercessory prayers.
"I was glad that all this time I had been howling my complaints not against the Catholic faith but against something quite imaginary which I had thought up in my own head…I had not yet discovered that what the Church taught was the truth." -- St. Augustine of Hippo, 397 AD
The core tenets of the Christian faith have been taught for millennia within the one, holy, apostolic Catholic Church. The beliefs of the Church have been revealed by Jesus Christ, the Son of God and through the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth. The following brief synopses of Catholic teachings lay at the core of the faith and serve as an introduction to the beliefs of Catholics and the foundation of truth.
"We believe in one God…" -- Nicene Creed
There is only one true God who is creator of all heaven and earth. God is infinite in power, wisdom, justice, goodness, and love. These attributes are reflected in his creation: the universe and human kind. God himself is triune in nature; this means that he is composed of three persons in one nature. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the three persons in the Trinity and together exist as one unified and eternal God. This concept is a revealed truth from God himself, and cannot be fully comprehended by man because of man's finite intelligence and nature. The three persons of the Trinity are united in love, with the Father as the source of the Trinity, the Son (Jesus Christ) proceeding from the Intellect of the Father by way of generation and the Holy Spirit proceeding from a spiration of mutual love of the Father and the Son. The very nature of the Trinity is indicative of a loving, personal God and not an uncaring, impersonal source of creation.
"And God created man in his own image…" -- Genesis 1:27
When God first created man and woman, they were created in perfect innocence and justice. This original holiness inherent in our first parents, Adam and Eve was disrupted by the temptation of Satan the angel of evil. Tempted by Satan, Adam and Eve forsook their loving relationship with God in deference to selfishness and lack of trust in the Creator.
The first sin of disobedience resulted in death to the spiritual nature of humankind. The Church teaches that humans are a union of body and soul. Hence, the original sin attributed to our first parents wounded the nature of our first parents and their progeny. As a consequence, all children born into the world lack spiritual life (also called grace) in their soul. The lack of grace prevents a person from inheriting everlasting spiritual life after bodily death.
However, the mercy, justice and goodness of God provided a way of salvation for the progeny of Adam. Jesus Christ, the Son of God and second member of the Trinity, was sent from the Father to redeem the world and heal the wounds of original sin in all believers. By his obedience and sacrificial death on the cross at Calvary, Christ paid for the sins of all humankind and redeemed the faithful. Thus a person who has faith in Christ, is baptized in the Church and lives a life of Christian charity receives the gift of grace from God, and can live eternally in heaven.
"For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man…" -- Nicene Creed
Jesus Christ, the second member of the divine Trinity, is the messiah of all humankind. Christ is the true God and through him all things were created. Following the fall of mankind, humanity could not be reconciled with their perfect and just creator through its own power. So through perfect love for humankind, Jesus descended from heaven and was born as a man from a virgin woman named Mary. Christ was both true God and true man in his ministry in Galilee. He gathered disciples, taught men of justice and truth with his divine wisdom and founded the Catholic Church to preserve his truths. Christ's messianic life was foretold in the prophecies of the Jewish people, and to them Christ first gave the truth.
In order to meet divine justice, he was unjustly crucified by human enemies and became a human and divine sacrifice for the disobedience and sins of man. "For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:19).
After Christ was crucified, he rose from the dead and appeared before his apostles. He continued to teach them and appear to them for forty days before ascending into heaven. Christ sent the Holy Spirit in his stead to guide his Church and its members until he returns at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead.
"We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of Life who proceeds from the Father and the Son" -- Nicene Creed
The Holy Spirit is the third member of the divine Godhead (Trinity) and is the essence of divine love between the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit's relation to humankind is in the embodiment of deep, personal love between God and man. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life that sustains man. Jesus revealed the existence of the Holy Spirit to his disciples and sent the Holy Spirit to guide his Church after his departure. The Holy Spirit imparts new life on a baptized Christian and creates divine faith in all believers who genuinely choose to accept God.
The Holy Spirit relates to the Father and Son within the Trinity as a "spiration of mutual love of the Father and Son." This is distinctive of the relationship between the Father and Son in the following way: The Son proceeds from the Father by way of generation from Intellect. Essentially, this distinction means that Jesus can be said to be eternally generated of the Father and can be rightfully given the title "Son of God" whereas the Holy Spirit cannot be called a "Son of God" since the Holy Spirit is not generated, but rather a spiration of love.
"For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting." -- John 3:16
Sin is a corruption of the will and an abuse of the gift of freedom, which God so lovingly gives us. By sin, man chooses himself over love for his creator and shuns divine justice and love. For God does not reject us, rather man rejects God. This rejection of God and violation of the just laws of our Creator drive away grace from the offender's soul and rob it of divine life. A soul without grace cannot pass on into heaven after death, and is doomed to suffer in hell, a place set forth by God for all those who reject his love and mercy.
As all men have sinned before God, either by personal sin or through inherent original sin, all men deserve bodily and spiritual death. The infinite justice and goodness of God cannot force man to love him, for that would rob man of his free will. Free will is necessary for true love, because love cannot be forced; it must be freely given.
In order to save man from his sins and from an eternity in hell, Jesus Christ served as a substitute for man's transgressions through his obedience and sacrificial death. Christ's death redeemed all men and opened the possibility of salvation for all. In order to receive everlasting life, a person must have divine and true faith in Christ as their redeemer. A believer must also be baptized and must live a life of Christian charity through obedience to Christ's commandments and the Church's precepts. True faith arises from prayer and is a free gift of the Holy Spirit to those who choose to search out Christ.
"Adhering to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, to the apostolic traditions and to the consensus of the Fathers we profess that the sacraments of the new law were all instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord." -- Council of Trent, 1547 AD
The Sacraments of the Catholic Church are the means by which Christ dispenses his salvific grace to the members of the Church. The sacrament of Baptism is a sacrament of initiation into the Body of Christ (the Church) and infuses sanctifying grace into the soul of the baptized believer. The sacrament of Confirmation occurs after Baptism and in it the confirmed receives the gift of the Holy Spirit to increase faith and grace. Confirmation, a sacrament in which the Holy Ghost is given to those already baptized in order to make them strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ. The third sacrament is the central sacrament of the Church; Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist, which is blessed and consecrated by a Catholic priest in the sacrifice of the Mass, becomes the body and blood of Christ. Those who partake of the Eucharist receive the grace needed to live a Christian life. The next sacrament is Holy Matrimony, or marriage, and in it, two baptized Christians are bonded together unto death to live in holy marriage. The recipients of the sacrament receive the grace of God needed to live as loving spouses and parents. The fifth sacrament is Holy Orders, and is the sacrament of grace by which a Christian becomes a Catholic deacon, priest or bishop. The sixth sacrament is Penance or Confession and is the sacrament of forgiveness, by which a person receives forgiveness for their sins. The last sacrament is Extreme Unction or Anointing of the Sick and is given to the elderly and the sick to prepare them for death and the beginning of eternal life with Jesus.
"And Whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body." -- Matthew 26:26
The central sacrament of the Church is the gift of the Eucharist; the true body and blood of Christ blessed from bread and wine. These gifts were first offered during Christ's Last Supper and derived their blessing and the source of their grace from Christ's crucifixion and death. The Eucharist is blessed and shared among the faithful during the Catholic mass, a time when Catholic believers assemble to pray, glorify God and partake in the Eucharist. The Eucharist when blessed and consecrated by a priest at the mass, is both a living sacrifice as well as a communion meal. The blessing of the Eucharist is the high point of the mass, and derives its spiritual grace from the Sacrifice of Christ at Calvary. Thus the offering and blessing of the Eucharist serves as a living sacrifice in expiation of the believer's sins. The sacrifice of the Mass is not a re-sacrificing of Christ, but rather an eternal spiritual commemoration and participation in the finished work of Christ: his redemptive death.
All Catholics are obliged and privileged to share in the Eucharist (when a Catholic priest is available) unless in the state of mortal sin (grievous sin). A Catholic in the state of mortal sin must receive the Sacrament of Penance before they can partake in the Eucharist again.
"…We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen." -- Nicene Creed
God has revealed to us that one day, this world will pass away and Christ will return to claim his flock and separate the good from the evil. On this day, judgement day, Christ will resurrect the dead and judge the souls of the living and the dead. Those who have received the life of Christ will receive new life and their body and soul will be reunited and elevated to a glorified state. Christ will crush death, and justly condemn the unrighteous to an eternity in hell. The world will pass away in its present form and will be glorified. Sin and death, punishment and suffering will all pass away for the righteous children of God.
Until this day, all souls who die will be immediately judged by God and will be sent to heaven, hell or purgatory based on their state of grace and merit. The resurrection will simply confirm their place with or against God, and will serve to glorify God through confirmation of the holiness of the saints.
"But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it." -- Wisdom 2:24
Jesus speaks of evil as disobedience to the will of the almighty God, and a rejection of his divine love. Evil first entered the creation of God through Satan, the angel of death and the prince of evil. The Church teaches that Satan was once a good angel created by God. However, Satan (because he was given the gift of free will) decided to reject God in preference to his own selfish desires. Christ tells us, "I saw Satan like lightning falling from heaven" (Luke 10:18). Satan was expelled from heaven, but was allowed to tempt mankind away from God's goodness and divine justice. Through Satan sin entered the world, corrupted it and brought about death.
There's a sound reason why God has allowed man the freedom to choose evil. It doesn't conflict with His goodness. God is neither the author of evil, nor its helpless victim. However, it is a fact that Satan does exist and is "a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44). Satan is opposed to the truth and deceives many by tempting people to abandon God in preference to lower forms of good corrupted by evil.
Over the centuries, Christian theologians and philosophers have speculated on the problem of evil. There are four possibilities for the existence of evil and suffering:
Suffering is a punishment for sin.
God permits evil because God can draw a higher form of good from it (the salvation of Christ and the consequence of eternal life from bodily death).
Evil is a consequence of God's gift of free will. Man must be free to either embrace God or embrace evil. Satan, a spiritual being, was also given the gift of free will and he chose to abuse it.
God permits evil for soul making: Man must be free to choose his moral destiny and be able to respond with virtue or evil to challenges. Evil is allowed in order to provide the possibility of a higher order of goodness.
Precisely because of His goodness God chooses to co-exist with evil for a time, that His goodness may be all the more manifest in those who overcome it by freely choosing to do good and avoid evil. A prophet named Job once experienced terrible suffering and evil despite his virtuous life dedicated to God. He demanded an explanation from the Lord for his suffering and pain. God replied, "Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance…Where were you when I founded the earth?…Will we have arguing with the Almighty by the critic? Let him who would correct God give answer!" (Job 38:1-2,40:2). God gave Job a lesson of humility from which we should all learn.