The Catholic Church teaches that it alone is the Church founded by Jesus Christ. It has always taught this. Often, however, this seems to be news to Protestants. They are often genuinely shocked when a Catholic tells them that Jesus founded only one Church, and the Catholic Church is that one! I don’t know about the rest of you, but I often see Protestants either scoffing or stammering when I tell them this. Then ensues a debate as to how the Catholic Church can make such a claim. After a thorough examination of the proof for the Catholic position, the Protestant will normally make the only argument he has left. I have heard so many times.
“Well, I believe that God is bigger than any one denomination. He is bigger than us. We can’t confine Him in one church. Jesus can be found in all of the denominations.”
It’s an odd argument for a Catholic. It seems as if the Protestants imagine that we literally think that Jesus is confined inside every single parish church throughout the world, but that He is nowhere else. That is partly correct. Because the bread and wine are changed (transubstantiated) into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, He does live in every parish church throughout the world. Catholics do not believe, however, that He is only found there. Because God is pure spirit, He can not be confined in any one place. A spirit takes up no space. So, technically-speaking, God is present everywhere.
Yet, His presence seems to be special in the Catholic Church. Aside from the Eucharist, God seems to be present in a special way in the Catholic Church. Don’t think of it in spatial terms. The Church has both a visible and invisible element to it. Jesus resides visibly in the Holy Eucharist. Yet, He resides invisibly in the Church, as well.
When Jesus spoke to St. Peter He said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” (Mt. 16:18) Note that He said church, not churches. Jesus only established one church, not many churches. The Church Universal existed before any single parish/congregation. So Jesus quite literally established one church. But which church is the one Jesus established?
The answer is quite simple. To find the answer all we must do is examine which church is established on the rock. Some people think that the rock mentioned in Matthew 16 on which Jesus established His church is St. Peter’s declaration of faith in Jesus as the Son of God. Yet, an examination of the text will show that this interpretation is not feasible.
When Peter declares that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus says, “I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18)
When we read this passage in the Greek, there are two different forms of the word rock. The two forms used are Petros and petra. Protestants use this to say that the two rocks are different. They say that Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, but that it is the rock of Peter’s faith on which the Church is founded. Petros (it is argued) means “little pebble”, and petra means “immovable rock”. The problem is that this interpretation makes no sense.
The Gospel According to Matthew was originally written in Aramaic. We know also, that Jesus spoke Aramaic. Based on where He lived Jesus probably knew at least some Greek, but there is no evidence that He spoke it on a regular basis. Actually, with His Apostles Jesus would have spoken Aramaic. This would have been their native language. In Aramaic there is only one word for rock, and that is “kepha”. There is a completely different word for “little pebble” in Aramaic, and that is “evna”. When speaking to Peter Jesus never used “evna”, but only “kepha”. So, Jesus literally said, “You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
Jesus established the Church on Peter. So the True Church would be the one who follows the successor of St. Peter. Only the Catholic Church meets this condition. So we can see that the Catholic Church must be the one established by Jesus. Does this mean that Jesus is completely absent from the other Christian denominations? Certainly not! Jesus can be found in other Christian denominations, but He is only found in His fullness in the Catholic Church. We are the only denomination which is in communion with the successor of Peter.
Is God bigger than one denomination? Yes, and He can be found to some extent in other denominations. Yet, we can not ignore the evidence that Jesus founded only one Church. He founded His Church on Peter and his successors. Since only the Catholic Church can make the claim to be in communion with the successor of St. Peter, only the Catholic Church can legitimately make the claim to be the One, True Church founded by Jesus Christ.
For further reading on this topic I suggest one read Tim Staples’ “Nuts and Bolts”. I must give him credit for some of the information regarding “kepha” and “evna” referred to here. I also recommend Stephen K. Ray’s “Upon This Rock”. Hopefully, one might soon be able to read my book on this topic titled “The Most Divisive Issue”.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity