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Sandra Van Allen wrote:

Hi guys,

I am a Born-again Christian, though not a Catholic. I have been searching and comparing the Catholic faith to other Protestant denominations. One very confusing point for me is that the Protestant denominations believe the beginning of the early Christian Church started with the Apostles of Christ.

  • Why don't they recognize that the Catholic Church was actually the first Church — long before their leaders started one after Christ was on earth?

Thank you for your time and answers.

Sandra

  { Why don't they note the Catholic Church was the first Church way before their leaders appeared? }

Bob replied:

Dear Sandra,

I assume your question is generally about the Protestant views of the early church and its origins. The best way I know to address this is to try and give a quick summary of the Catholic point.

The Catholic view is that Christ founded His own Church with the Apostles, and chose Simon to play a significant role among them. He changed Simon's name to "Peter," indicating, in biblical covenantal form, that his identity and role would change. That job would be to keep His Church together (cf. Luke 9:18-20) and authentic (cf. Matthew 16:19). God had changed the names of other biblical characters, and with that, always had a significant job and covenant with them. Since God Himself is the rock, naming simon "rock" connected his role in a powerful way to Christ and His Church.

So the short of it is, as St. Augustine said,

  • Where Peter is, there is the Church"

For all its shortcomings, sin and divisions, Christ's own Church is still visible. That is why it is the only Church with an unbroken chain of succession back to Christ himself.

  • What Protestant denomination can show you an unbroken line of authoritative successors back to Christ?

Instead, they point to the Bible, the written word of God. That is convenient because anyone can claim that the Bible supports their opinions — that's how divisions arise. Of course, we hold the Scriptures as God's word too — our Church gave the world the canonical bible through its councils (Check out where the list of what books belong in the Bible come from). Simply clutching the Word in hand and wielding it doesn't answer the question of who has the unbroken covenantal authority as designated by Christ. History itself answers that. History tells us that the Catholic Church alone is the constant. Christ constructed His Church on the Apostles and their successors — and if there be division among them, the "rock" is the true footing.

Keep searching!

Peace,

Bob K.

Eric replied:

Hi Sandra,

Thanks for your question.

To what Bob wrote, I'd like to add the following.

Most Christians hold that the Church was born on Pentecost, 33 A.D., when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary and the Apostles. For us as Catholics, we would consider this to be the founding of the Catholic Church. However the reason that Protestants do not recognize that the Catholic Church is the first Church is because they do not associate the "Catholic Church" with the Church started at Pentecost. In other words, they do not believe that the organization today known as the Catholic Church is the same body of believers that started at Pentecost. (Interesting factoid, though: the first use of the term "catholic" is in 110 A.D., where St. Ignatius of Antioch, a martyr later thrown to the lions, wrote to a church in Asia Minor,

Where the bishop is, there let the people gather; just as where ever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

Instead, Protestants typically believe that the "Catholic Church" started at some vaguely defined point of time much later in history, for example, in the fourth century. In part, this is because today's Catholic Church has more of an external resemblance to the historical church of the fourth century than it does to the popular image of the first century Church. It's very tempting to believe that the Church of Pentecost can't be the Catholic Church, that the Catholic Church arose at a later time.

While it's undeniable that the first century Church looked very different from the fourth century Church (or today's Catholic Church), this does not imply that they are different churches, for it is just as undeniable that the infant looks very little like the adult even though they are in fact the selfsame person. Or, again, it is undeniable that an acorn looks nothing like an oak tree, but all oak trees developed from tiny acorns. Likewise, the Catholic Church started in seminal form on Pentecost and developed over time into the form we see today.

The key question is whether the beliefs are consistent across that period of time.

  • Did the early Church in belief resemble more the Catholic Church or the Protestant church?

If you look at the historical records, such as the writings of:

  • St. Clement of Rome
  • St. Polycarp of Smyrna
  • St. Ignatius of Antioch
  • St. Justin Martyr
  • St. Papias
  • Hermas
  • the Didache, and so forth

you'll find that early Church beliefs are indeed consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church today on issues such as the roles and authority of priests and bishops, the Eucharist, Confession, Baptism, and so forth.

Another factor is the succession of bishops which go all the way back to the apostles. This proves that the Catholic Church today is the church of the Apostles. The more you study the history of the early Church, the clearer the Catholic Church stands out as the Church of the Apostles, upholding apostolic teaching. Unfortunately, being well-versed in history has not historically been a strong suit for Protestantism, which may be another reason why they don't associate the Catholic Church with the early Church.

I hope this answers your question.

May God bless you in your quest for the truth, and give you the desire of your heart.

Yours in Christ,

Eric Ewanco

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