Listers, the following lesson is taken from the Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism was the standard catechism for teaching the faith and catechizing children from 1885 to Vatican II. Its basic question-and-answer approach is the most natural learning style for the human mind and it simplifies even the most complex theological questions. All the lists taken from the Baltimore Catechism may be found here.
Further Studies on the Catholic Church as the One True Church
- 13 Biblical Reasons St. Peter is the Prince of the Apostles
- 10 Biblical Reasons Christ Founded the Papacy
- 11 Reasons the Authority of Christianity Is Centered on St. Peter and Rome
- 5 Reflections from the Early Church Fathers and Sts. Peters & Paul
- The First 10 Popes of the Catholic Church
- The Apostles Appointed Bishops: 9 Teaches from St. Clement of Rome
On the Attributes and Marks of the Church
Q. 517. What is an attribute?
A. An attribute is any characteristic or quality that a person or thing may be said to have. All perfections or imperfections are attributes.
Q. 518. What is a mark?
A. A mark is a given and known sign by which a thing can be distinguished from all others of its kind. Thus a trademark is used to distinguish the article bearing it from all imitations of the same article.
Q. 519. How do we know that the Church must have the four marks and three attributes usually ascribed or given to it?
A. We know that the Church must have the four marks and three attributes usually ascribed or given to it from the words of Christ given in the Holy Scripture and in the teaching of the Church from its beginning.
Q. 520. Can the Church have the four marks without the three attributes?
A. The Church cannot have the four marks without the three attributes, because the three attributes necessarily come with the marks and without them the marks could not exist.
Q. 521. Why are both marks and attributes necessary in the Church?
A. Both marks and attributes are necessary in the Church, for the marks teach us its external or visible qualities, while the attributes teach us its internal or invisible qualities. It is easier to discover the marks than the attributes; for it is easier to see that the Church is one than that it is infallible.
Q. 522. Which are the attributes of the Church?
A. The attributes of the Church are three: 1.authority, infallibility, and indefectibility.
Q. 523. What is authority?
A. Authority is the power which one person has over another so as to be able to justly exact obedience. Rulers have authority over their subjects, parents over their children, and teachers over their scholars.
Q. 524. From whom must all persons derive whatever lawful authority they possess?
A. All persons must derive whatever lawful authority they possess from God Himself, from whom they receive it directly or indirectly. Therefore, to disobey our lawful superiors is to disobey God Himself, and hence such disobedience is always sinful.
Q. 525. What do you mean by the authority of the Church?
A. By the authority of the Church I mean the right and power which the Pope and the Bishops, as the successors of the Apostles, have to teach and to govern the faithful.
Q. 526. What do you mean by the infallibility of the Church?
A. By the infallibility of the Church I mean that the Church can not err when it teaches a doctrine of faith or morals.
Q. 527. What do we mean by a “doctrine of faith or morals”?
A. By a doctrine of faith or morals we mean the revealed teaching that refers to whatever we must believe and do in order to be saved.
Q. 528. How do you know that the Church can not err?
A. I know that the Church can not err because Christ promised that the Holy Ghost would remain with it forever and save it from error. If, therefore, the Church has erred, the Holy Ghost must have abandoned it and Christ has failed to keep His promise, which is a thing impossible.
Q. 529. Since the Church can not err, could it ever be reformed in its teaching of faith or morals?
A. Since the Church can not err, it could never be reformed in its teaching of faith or morals. Those who say the Church needed reformation in faith or morals accuse Our Lord of falsehood and deception.
Q. 530. When does the Church teach infallibly?
A. The Church teaches infallibly when it speaks through the Pope and Bishops united in general council, or through the Pope alone when he proclaims to all the faithful a doctrine of faith or morals.
Q. 531. What is necessary that the Pope may speak infallibly or ex-cathedra?
A. That the Pope may speak infallibly, or ex-cathedra:
He must speak on a subject of faith or morals; He must speak as the Vicar of Christ and to the whole Church; He must indicate by certain words, such as, we define, we proclaim, etc., that he intends to speak infallibly.
Q. 532. Is the Pope infallible in everything he says and does?
A. The Pope is not infallible in everything he says and does, because the Holy Ghost was not promised to make him infallible in everything, but only in matters of faith and morals for the whole Church. Nevertheless, the Pope’s opinion on any subject deserves our greatest respect on account of his learning, experience and dignity.
Q. 533. Can the Pope commit sin?
A. The Pope can commit sin and he must seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance as others do. Infallibility does not prevent him from sinning, but from teaching falsehood when he speaks ex-cathedra.
Q. 534. What does ex-cathedra mean?
A. “Cathedra” means a seat, and “ex” means out of. Therefore, ex-cathedra means speaking from the seat or official place held by St. Peter and his successors as the head of the whole Church.
Q. 535. Why is the chief Church in a diocese called a Cathedral?
A. The chief Church in a diocese is called a Cathedral because the bishop’s cathedra, that is, his seat or throne, is erected in it, and because he celebrates all important feasts and performs all his special duties in it.
Q. 536. How many Popes have governed the Church from St. Peter to Pius XI?
A. From St. Peter to Pius XI., 261 Popes have governed the Church; and many of them have been remarkable for their zeal, prudence, learning and sanctity.
Q. 537. What does anti-pope mean, and who were the anti-popes?
A. Anti-pope means a pretended pope. The anti-popes were men who by the aid of faithless Christians or others unlawfully seized and claimed the papal power while the lawful pope was in prison or exile.
Q. 538. Why must the Pope sometimes warn us on political and other matters?
A. The Pope must sometimes warn us on political and other matters, because whatever nations or men do is either good or bad, just or unjust, and wherever the Pope discovers falsehood, wickedness or injustice he must speak against it and defend the truths of faith and morals. He must protect also the temporal rights and property of the Church committed to his care.
Q. 539. What do we mean by the “temporal power” of the Pope?
A. By the temporal power of the Pope we mean the right which the Pope has as a temporal or ordinary ruler to govern the states and manage the properties that have rightfully come into the possession of the Church.
Q. 540. How did the Pope acquire and how was he deprived of the temporal power?
A. The Pope acquired the temporal power in a just manner by the consent of those who had a right to bestow it. He was deprived of it in an unjust manner by political changes.
Q. 541. How was the temporal power useful to the Church?
A. The temporal power was useful to the Church:
Because it gave the Pope the complete independence necessary for the government of the Church and for the defense of truth and virtue.
It enabled him to do much for the spread of the true religion by giving alms for the establishment and support of Churches and schools in poor or pagan countries.
Q. 542. What name do we give to the offerings made yearly by the faithful for the support of the Pope and the government of the Church?
A. We call the offerings made yearly by the faithful for the support of the Pope and government of the Church “Peter’s pence.” It derives its name from the early custom of sending yearly a penny from every house to the successor of St. Peter, as a mark of respect or as an alms for some charity.
Q. 543. What do you mean by the indefectibility of the Church?
A. By the indefectibility of the Church I mean that the Church, as Christ founded it, will last till the end of time.
Q. 544. What is the difference between the infallibility and indefectibility of the Church?
A. When we say the Church is infallible we mean that it can never teach error while it lasts; but when we say the Church is indefectible, we mean that it will last forever and be infallible forever; that it will always remain as Our Lord founded it and never change the doctrines He taught.
Q. 545. Did Our Lord Himself make all the laws of the Church?
A. Our Lord Himself did not make all the laws of the Church. He gave the Church also power to make laws to suit the needs of the times, places or persons as it judged necessary.
Q. 546. Can the Church change its laws?
A. The Church can, when necessary, change the laws it has itself made, but it cannot change the laws that Christ has made. Neither can the Church change any doctrine of faith or morals.
Q. 547. In whom are these attributes found in their fullness?
A. These attributes are found in their fullness in the Pope, the visible Head of the Church, whose infallible authority to teach bishops, priests, and people in matters of faith or morals will last to the end of the world.
Q. 548. Has the Church any marks by which it may be known?
A. The Church has four marks by which it may be known: it is One; it is Holy; it is Catholic; it is Apostolic.
Q. 549. How is the Church One?
A. The Church is One because all its members agree in one faith, are all in one communion, and are all under one head.
Q. 550. How is it evident that the Church is one in government?
A. It is evident that the Church is one in government, for the faithful in a parish are subject to their pastors, the pastors are subject to the bishops of their dioceses, and the bishops of the world are subject to the Pope.
Q. 551. What is meant by the Hierarchy of the Church?
A. By the Hierarchy of the Church is meant the sacred body of clerical rules who govern the Church.
Q. 552. How is it evident that the Church is one in worship?
A. It is evident that the Church is one in worship because all its members make use of the same sacrifice and receive the same Sacraments.
Q. 553. How is it evident that the Church is one in faith?
A. It is evident the Church is one in faith because all Catholics throughout the world believe each and every article of faith proposed by the Church.
Q. 554. Could a person who denies only one article of our faith be a Catholic?
A. A person who denies even one article of our faith could not be a Catholic; for truth is one and we must accept it whole and entire or not at all.
Q. 555. Are there any pious beliefs and practices in the Church that are not articles of faith?
A. There are many pious beliefs and practices in the Church that are not articles of faith; that is, we are not bound under pain of sin to believe in them; yet we will often find them useful aids to holiness, and hence they are recommended by our pastors.
Q. 556. Of what sin are persons guilty who put firm belief in religious or other practices that are either forbidden or useless?
A. Persons who put a firm belief in religious or other practices that are forbidden or useless are guilty of the sin of superstition.
Q. 557. Where does the Church find the revealed truths it is bound to teach?
A. The Church finds the revealed truths it is bound to teach in the Holy Scripture and revealed traditions.
Q. 558. What is the Holy Scripture or Bible?
A. The Holy Scripture or Bible is the collection of sacred, inspired writings through which God has made known to us many revealed truths. Some call them letters from Heaven to earth, that is, from God to man.
Q. 559. What is meant by the Canon of the Sacred Scriptures?
A. The Canon of Sacred Scriptures means the list the Church has prepared to teach us what sacred writings are Holy Scripture and contain the inspired word of God.
Q. 560. Where does the Church find the revealed traditions?
A. The Church finds the revealed traditions in the decrees of its councils; in its books of worship; in its paintings and inscriptions on tombs and monuments; in the lives of its Saints; the writings of its Fathers, and in its own history.
Q. 561. Must we ourselves seek in the Scriptures and traditions for what we are to believe?
A. We ourselves need not seek in the Scriptures and traditions for what we are to believe. God has appointed the Church to be our guide to salvation and we must accept its teaching us our infallible rule of faith.
Q. 562. How do we show that the Holy Scriptures alone could not be our guide to salvation and infallible rule of faith?
A. We show that the Holy Scripture alone could not be our guide to salvation and infallible rule of faith:
Because all men cannot examine or understand the Holy Scripture; but all can listen to the teaching of the Church; Because the New Testament or Christian part of the Scripture was not written at the beginning of the Church’s existence, and, therefore, could not have been used as the rule of faith by the first Christians; Because there are many things in the Holy Scripture that cannot be understood without the explanation given by tradition, and hence those who take the Scripture alone for their rule of faith are constantly disputing about its meaning and what they are to believe.
Q. 563. How is the Church Holy?
A. The Church is Holy because its founder, Jesus Christ, is holy; because it teaches a holy doctrine; invites all to a holy life; and because of the eminent holiness of so many thousands of its children.
Q. 564. How is the Church Catholic or universal?
A. The Church is Catholic or universal because it subsists in all ages, teaches all nations, and maintains all truth.
Q. 565. How do you show that the Catholic Church is universal in time, in place, and in doctrine?
The Catholic Church is universal in time, for from the time of the Apostles to the present it has existed, taught and labored in every age; It is universal in place, for it has taught throughout the whole world; It is universal in doctrine, for it teaches the same everywhere, and its doctrines are suited to all classes of persons. It has converted all the pagan nations that have ever been converted.
Q. 566. Why does the Church use the Latin language instead of the national language of its children?
A. The Church uses the Latin language instead of the national language of its children:
To avoid the danger of changing any part of its teaching in using different languages; That all its rulers may be perfectly united and understood in their communications; To show that the Church is not an institute of any particular nation, but the guide of all nations.
Q. 567. How is the Church Apostolic?
A. The Church is Apostolic because it was founded by Christ on His Apostles, and is governed by their lawful successors, and because it has never ceased, and never will cease, to teach their doctrine.
Q. 568. Does the Church, by defining certain truths, thereby make new doctrines?
A. The Church, by defining, that is, by proclaiming certain truths, articles of faith, does not make new doctrines, but simply teaches more clearly and with greater effort truths that have always been believed and held by the Church.
Q. 569. What, then, is the use of defining or declaring a truth an article of faith if it has always been believed?
A. The use of defining or declaring a truth an article of faith, even when it has always been believed, is: (1) To clearly contradict those who deny it and show their teaching false; (2) To remove all doubt about the exact teaching of the Church, and to put an end to all discussion about the truth defined.
Q. 570. In which Church are these attributes and marks found?
A. These attributes and marks are found in the Holy Roman Catholic Church alone.
Q. 571. How do you show that Protestant Churches have not the marks of the true Church?
A. Protestant Churches have not the marks of the true Church, because:
They are not one either in government or faith; for they have no chief head, and they profess different beliefs; They are not holy, because their doctrines are founded on error and lead to evil consequences; They are not catholic or universal in time, place or doctrine. They have not existed in all ages nor in all places, and their doctrines do not suit all classes; They are not apostolic, for they were not established for hundreds of years after the Apostles, and they do not teach the doctrines of the Apostles.
Q. 572. From whom does the Church derive its undying life and infallible authority?
A. The Church derives its undying life and infallible authority from the Holy Ghost, the spirit of truth, who abides with it forever.
Q. 573. By whom is the Church made and kept One, Holy, and Catholic?
A. The Church is made and kept One, Holy, and Catholic by the Holy Ghost, the spirit of love and holiness, who unites and sanctifies its members throughout the world.
Since the Baltimore Catechism primary speaks in catechetical and conclusory statements, please see the list of “further studies” at the beginning of the article for an offering of biblical and historical arguments.