The Nicene Creed, which we recite at almost every Mass, declares the Church to be One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
In our Epistle reading at Mass today tells us that the Church of the New Testament was definitely one: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Ephesians. 4:4-5). St Paul linked this primitive unity to the Church’s common celebration and sharing in the Mass. “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17). Jesus had promised at the outset that ” … and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:16). Of course it follows that this “one bread” should be the same, and understood and recognised to be the same among all believers for this unification to be complete.
The Church of the apostles was holy. When we say that, we mean among other things that it had the all-holy God himself as author. We do not mean that all of its members have ceased to be sinners and have themselves become all-holy. On the contrary, the Church from the beginning, on her human side, has been composed of sinners: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). The Church was founded for no other reason than to continue Christ’s redemptive and sanctifying work with them in the world.
One of the attributes of the “holiness” as applied to the Church, is that the Church from the beginning has been graced with the means to help make holy the sinners who are found in her ranks. The Church has been given the sacraments along with the word precisely in order to be able to help make sinners holy.
The third great historic mark of the one true Church was that this Church was Catholic. “Catholic” means “universal.” It refers as much to the fullness of the faith which it possesses as it does to the undeniable extension in both time and space which has characterised it virtually from the beginning.
At the very beginning, of course, it was no doubt difficult to see how the “little flock” (Luke 12:32) of which the Church then consisted could by any stretch of the imagination qualify as “universal.” Still, just as all life begins with a group of cells, which in term become the whole human being, so the Church already contained the universality that would quickly begin to manifest itself.
It is not without significance that the Holy Spirit came down upon the Church at Pentecost at a time when “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). It was to them that the Holy Spirit temporarily enabled the apostles to speak in the languages of all these various nations — a powerful sign that the Church was destined for all men everywhere, represented at that first Pentecost in Jerusalem by those of many nations who had come there from afar. Many accepted the faith then and there and presumably began forthwith carrying “the Catholic Church” back to the four corners of the earth.
Finally, the Church that issued from the commission of Christ to the apostles was necessarily apostolic. Christ founded the Church upon the apostles and in no other way: “Have I not chosen you twelve?” he asked them (John 6:70). The apostles of all people understood perfectly well that they did not set themselves up in their own little community, as we sometimes today see “independent churches” set up even those who have the external trappings of which suggest they believe what we do about the Church. The New Testament teaches, ” And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God” (Heb. 5:4).
Nothing is clearer, then, that the Church started out as “apostolic.” The question is whether the apostles had the power and authority to pass on to others what they had received from Christ. We have already seen that they very definitely did have this power and authority; the New Testament evidence is clear about that. Indeed there are already references in the New Testament to the appointment of bishops by the apostles, as well as to the appointment of further bishops by them (Titus 1:5-9).
What Church, if any, descends in an unbroken line from the apostles of Jesus Christ (and also, not incidentally, possesses the other essential notes of the true Church of which the creed speaks)? Any entity or body claiming to be the Church of Christ must be able to demonstrate its apostolicity by demonstrating an organic link with the original apostles on whom Christ manifestly established his Church.
The Anglican Catholic Church does not claim to be THE One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. But bearing as we do the Four Marks of THE Church do believe ourselves to be PART of this Church which Jesus Christ founded on the apostles and which has come down to us from them. If we do not, how can we pretend that we take anything seriously that Christ said and taught?
He said nothing more solemnly than these words, “He that heareth you heareth me;” (Luke 10:16). in which he declared that the apostles and their successors would speak for him in the serious business of gathering in and sanctifying his people and leading them toward the salvation he offers. Jesus intended that the fullness of his grace should come to his people in a Church that, from the beginning, was what the creed still calls it today: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.