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The Marvel Of The Catholic Church . . . The Church’s Stability And Endurance

July 10, 2016 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA

Part 8

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Jesus’ command to preach the Gospel to every nation would have been humanly impossible to put into practice without the subsequent promise to be with His Church until the end of time. And it was no empty promise. The heresies that erupted in the Church and claimed to be the true “Church” missed the important point that Jesus founded one Church, and only one, and remains in her, protecting her to the end of time.
The stability and endurance of the Catholic Church in history are remarkable indeed. Even her adversaries admit it. Any other human institution would have perished a long time ago, if God’s hand were not protecting her. We’ve had pretty much of everything: schisms, heresies, bad bishops, bad Popes, you name it. And yet the Church has survived everything. When she was sick, she recovered, when there was confusion, she clarified it, when there was decadence she rose up.
Our Lord Jesus Christ described the Church He founded on the Rock of Peter in a parable, when He compared the man-made churches with houses built on sand and His Church as a house built on a rock — Peter: “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the Rock” (Matt. 7:25). The Church has had periods of darkness, crisis, like today, but always a new day dawns with new graces and blessings.
But I am speaking as a Catholic. Let us see what a Protestant historian wrote about this miraculous endurance of the Catholic Church (Lord Macaulay, in his essay on Leopold von Ranke’s History of the Popes, 1840):
“There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The History of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilization. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards (giraffes) and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre (the Colosseum).
“The proud royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century, to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth. And far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice comes next in antiquity, but the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the Republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains.
“The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigor. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the furthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustine, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which She confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age.”
It is a much larger quotation, but for the sake of brevity it suffices to say that Lord Macaulay marvels at the fact that powerful kingdoms and empires have come and gone in history, but the papacy remains as strong as ever.
Now, the papacy is an elective monarchy, and, on her human side, is open to dangers, from both within and without. From time to time, especially in the days of the Renaissance, ambitious and worldly ecclesiastics disputed over the elections of Popes and the nominations of bishops, in order to see their minions placed on the papal and/or episcopal chair.
So we have had some — a few, not many — incompetent and even wicked Popes, and truly disastrous schisms have happened a few times. If, during those troublesome times, the Popes were mere temporal rulers, their empire would have collapsed in a little time. But it did not. Why? Jesus’ promise remains true: “I will be with you till the end of time.”
But there were other kinds of troubles: human weakness, stupidity, lack of discernment, inexperience, and so on. At times bishops and even Popes put the Church in jeopardy because of their imprudent actions as leaders but never as teachers of infallible doctrine. Even when they acted in the best intentions, and made wrong moves, Jesus’ promise remained always true. The Church survived not because of the Popes’ abilities but in spite of their lack thereof.
The very first Pope inaugurated the school of mistakes in policy: St. Peter, while bishop of Antioch, adopted a policy of discrimination against the Gentile Christians to favor the Judaizers of Jerusalem. Result: St. Paul resisted him to his face, publicly. And good old St. Peter, who knew very well when he was infallible and when he was not, accepted the public rebuke of St. Paul (Gal. 2:11-12).
The interesting thing to note is that those occasional mistakes made by the Popes actually confirm the divine protection, because more than once those mistakes would have cost them the throne, if they had been temporal rulers.
St. Paul put it beautifully, when he wrote: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak to shame the strong; God chose the low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).
In the Old Testament, a similar thing happened to Gideon, a judge of Israel, who had put together an army of 32,000 men to fight the Midianites, but God told him to keep only 300 of them, so that, after the promised victory, the Israelites might boast that the victory was due to them and not to God (Judges 7:2).
The first conclusion is evident: The only institution in Europe that survived all revolutions, wars, and political changes since the days of the Roman emperors, is the papacy, the Catholic Church. Moreover, she survived in spite of persecution, internal intrigue and turmoil, heresy, schism, and the incompetence and worldliness of some Popes.
But she did not merely “survive” as a shadow of her previous greatness, but with unparalleled vigor and dynamism. This is a miraculous survival, which can only be explained by God’s assistance. Jesus’ promise remains true, as always.
Next article: A revealing historical example: the Pope and Napoleon.

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(Raymond de Souza is an EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI]; president of the Sacred Heart Institute, and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His website is: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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