by Michael Davies


The reference to the Church as a visible body here is of crucial importance. Our Lord constituted His Church as a visible hierarchically governed body founded on the rock of Peter for whom He had prayed that his faith might not fail (Ego autem rogavi pro te). It is incompatible with the profession of Catholicism to posit any form of the "true Church" separated from the Catholic hierarchy in communion with the Roman Pontiff. This is equally true whether the so­called "true Church" is of an invisible nature, with its members known only to God, as many Protestants maintain, or whether it is a visible hierarchically governed body with "true bishops" not in communion with the Roman Pontiff. The Orthodox Church has validly ordained bishops, valid sacraments, and teaching that is identical in most respects to that of the Catholic Church, but the Orthodox Churches are in schism and do not form part of the one, true Church founded by Our Lord. A person who refuses submission to the Supreme Pontiff or refuses communion with the members of the Church who are subject to him is schismatic.

The Church was instituted by Our Lord to guide her members effectively toward their supernatural end by continuing His own ministry. It must therefore be an essentially visible body. It must be visible by the members that compose it, by the authority which directs those members, and by the bonds which unite them with the divinely instituted authority. In his encyclical Satis Cognitum, 1896, Pope Leo XIII noted the importance of the sacraments among the visible bonds uniting the members of the Mystical Body. Grace is produced in the souls of the faithful by exterior means consisting of sacraments administered with special rites, and celebrated by ministers specifically chosen for this function. Any sacramental rites authorized by the Roman Pontiff must be and are official sacramental rites of the Holy Catholic Church, and, when celebrated faithfully in accordance with the text and rubrics which he has approved, must of necessity give grace, be free from error, and contain nothing intrinsically harmful to the faith.

Furthermore, when we speak of the visibility of the Church, we do not simply mean that her members, her rites, and her ministry can be seen. What we mean is that these can be recognized to constitute the true Church of Christ; so that, in other words, we can point to a specific society and say of it: "This is Christ's Church." There is not, there never has been, and there never can be, any organized body not in communion with the Roman Pontiff of which that statement can be made. As the Second Vatican Council taught, the hierarchical society and the Mystical Body form one complex reality (see below).

Our Lord referred to His Church as a body which can be seen and distinguished from other societies. His Church is a kingdom (Mt. 16: 19); a fold or flock (John 21: 15ff); a city (Apoc. 21: 2); a house (1 Peter 2: 5). The visibility of the Church is explicitly stated by the Fathers: "It is an easier thing for the sun to be quenched than for the Church to be made invisible." In his Encyclical Satis Cognitum, Pope Leo XIII taught that:

The perpetuity of the visible, hierarchically governed Church is integral to her indefectibility. "Behold I am with you all days" (Mt. 28: 20). "The gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Mt. 16: 18). Pope Leo XIII also states in Satis Cognitum that:

1997 Michael Davies.

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Last modified 27th October, 1997, by David Joyce.