Faith in the Church

FR. KENNETH BAKER, S.J.

The Nicene Creed embodies our official profession of faith as Roman Catholics. The three major sections concern the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the final section we profess our faith in the Church, Baptism, resurrection of the dead and eternal life. Let us reflect on our faith in the Church.

If you think about it for a minute, it is truly astonishing that we say we believe in "the Church". Non-Catholic Christians do not look upon the Church as we do. For many of them, the Church is an historical "accident" not intended by Christ — something that just happened after the death of Jesus. They do not look upon the Church as a structured body, a hierarchical institution or a perfect society that was founded by Christ on Peter, the "rock", and intended to perdure until the Second Coming of Jesus in glory.

For the Catholic, however, the Church is all of that and more. The Church is also the pilgrim People of God on its way to the glory of the Father; it is the Mystical Body of Christ — a body because it is structured, visible and historical, and mystical because it is animated by the Spirit of Jesus Christ; it is the Bride of Christ which he loves and for which he offered his life; it is a holy temple composed of many parts; it is a sacred community, held together by one faith and one Baptism, which operates through the seven sacraments given to her by her Founder.

No matter which image or images are used to describe the Church, none of them is completely adequate because the Church is a "mystery". This means that the total reality of the Church ultimately escapes the confines of human concepts and images. The principle which makes the Church possible in the first place is from above, for the Church is from God and transcends the capacity of the human mind fully to comprehend it. In early Christian mosaics, the Church was often represented by Noah's Ark, the idea being that just as Noah and his family were saved from the flood by the ark, so also the Church is the only "ark" of salvation for us. Thus we find St. Cyprian in the third century saying that "outside the Church there is no salvation," an idea that has been repeated in Church documents since that time (Vatican II, Constitution of the Church, 14). The formula was narrowly understood by Fr. Leonard Feeney in the late 1940s, but in clarifying the Church's position on the matter the Holy Office, in 1949, in a letter that was approved by Pope Pius XII, explained that those who are in a state of invincible ignorance about the necessity of belonging to the Catholic Church can be saved if they have at least an implicit desire to enter the Church and if their hearts are informed with perfect charity (See DS 3866-73).

When we say that "we believe in the Church" we are making the Church an object of supernatural and divine faith. When we believe in something by divine faith, this means we accept it as true on the Word of God himself who has revealed it to us.

Thus the very existence of the Church, including her essential structure and her outstanding characteristics, has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ. Accordingly, we profess our belief in the one Church of Jesus Christ when we pray the Nicene Creed.

Since the Church was founded by Jesus, but on the human foundation of Peter and the other Apostles, it has both divine and human dimensions. Because the Church is also human she has some defects — scandals that sometimes drive people away from her. But we must never forget that, with all the faults of her ministers and people, she is still the only bride of Christ. Above all, she is our mother since she gave us birth into the supernatural life of grace that makes us adopted sons of God and heirs of the kingdom. We not only believe in her; we also love her as the one mother who will never fail us.

See the index of chapters from Fundamentals of Catholicism which have been reprinted to CERC here.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Kenneth Baker, S.J. "Faith in the Church." In Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1 Chapter 34 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 99-101.

This article reprinted with permission from Father Kenneth Baker, S.J.

THE AUTHOR

Rev. Kenneth Baker, S.J., has served for the past thirty years as editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1947. In 1970 he served as president of Seattle University and in 1971 became editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. In 1973 he published his translation of the Philosophical Dictionary and adapted it to American usage. In 1975 he became president of Catholic Views Broadcasts, Inc., which produces a weekly 15-minute radio program that airs on 50 stations across the United States. He has built and run three community television stations. In 1983 he published a three-volume explation of the faith called Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1, Creed and Commandments; Vol. 2, God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary; and Vol. 3, Grace, the Church, the Sacraments, Eschatology.

Copyright © 1995 Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.


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