The Catholic Church

Author: Baltimore Catechism


Baltimore Catechism qq.136-169


136. What is the Church? 

The Church is the congregation of all baptized persons united in the same true faith, the 
same sacrifice, and the same sacraments, under the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff and the bishops in communion with him. 

(a) Since Baptism, according to the ruling of Christ, is the gateway to the Church, a person becomes a member of the Church on receiving this sacrament. To remain a real 
member of the Church after Baptism a person must profess the one true faith and must not withdraw from the unity of the body of the Church in schism or heresy or be be ex- communicated by legitimate authority because of serious sins. Even schismatics, heretics, and those excommunicated are subjects of the Church and are obliged by its laws unless exempted by the Church. 

(b) Sacred Scripture refers to the Church as the Body of Christ, as a sheepfold, as the 
kingdom of God, and as the kingdom of heaven. 

137. Who founded the Church?

Jesus Christ founded the Church. 

(a) Christ completed the founding of His Church just before His Ascension, when He 
commissioned the apostles to make disciples of all nations. Earlier in His public ministry He had instituted the sacraments, chosen the twelve apostles, instructed them by word and example, and conferred on them the power of teaching, ruling, and sanctifying. 

(b) The Gospels show that Christ founded the Church in the form of a visible, hierarchical society, that is, one made up of subjects and superiors who rightfully rule subjects. The Roman Pontiff and the bishops under him are the ruling hierarchy of the Church. The Church is also a monarchical society in which the Pope rules with full power, that is, with jurisdiction over the entire Church. Peter was the first head of the Church founded by Christ. 

(c) After Pentecost Sunday the apostles began to carry out their mission, which through 
them and their successors continues and will continue until the end of time. 

138. Why did Jesus Christ found the Church? 

Jesus Christ founded the Church to bring all men to eternal salvation. 

(a) The Church instituted by Christ is the only way to eternal salvation. Christ gave the 
Church the means whereby man can be sanctified and saved. 

139. How is the Church enabled to lead men to salvation?

The Church is enabled to lead men to salvation by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, 
who gives it life. 

(a) Although the work of salvation is the result of the operation of all three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, it is especially the result of the Redemption by Christ, and because this work is one of divine love it is attributed to the Holy Ghost, who is the soul of the Church, of which Christ is the Head. 

140. When was the dwelling of the Holy Ghost in the Church first visibly manifested? 

The dwelling of the Holy Ghost in the Church was first visibly manifested on Pentecost 
Sunday, when He came down upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire. 

(a) The word "Pentecost" means fiftieth and is applied to the fiftieth day after Our Lord's Resurrection. 

(b) The apostles were sent by Christ to preach His doctrines to all men.

141. How long will the Holy Ghost dwell in the Church?

The Holy Ghost will dwell in the Church until the end of time. 

(a) Christ foretold that the Holy Ghost would dwell in the Church until the end of time. 

142. Who sent the Holy Ghost to dwell in the Church? 

God the Father and God the Son sent the Holy Ghost to dwell in the Church. 

(a) It is a matter of faith that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son and 
is sent by Both to dwell in the Church. 

143. What does the indwelling of the Holy Ghost ennoble the Church to do? 

The  indwelling of the Holy Ghost enables the Church to teach to sanctify, and to rule the 
faithful in the name of Christ. 

(a) The Church must teach because otherwise men would not know the truths of divine 
revelation taught by Christ. 

(b) The Church must sanctify, that is, bring grace to the world through the sacraments, 
because otherwise men could not be saved. 

(c) The Church must rule because it was established by Our Savior as a society, which 
is inconceivable without authority. 

144. What is meant by teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in the name of Christ? 

By teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in the name of Christ is meant that the Church always does the will of its Divine Founder, who remains forever its invisible Head. 

(a) The will of the Founder of the Church is expressed in the commission He gave to His apostles to teach all nations, to baptize them, and to have them observe all the things He had commanded. This commission, as well as the guarantee that Christ would be with His Church until the end of time, is related in the Gospel.

145. To whom did Christ give the power to teach, to sanctify, and to rule the members of His Church? 

Christ gave the power to teach, to sanctify, and to rule the members of His Church to 
the apostles, the first bishops of the Church. 

(a) That Christ gave His apostles the power to teach, to rule, and to sanctify is evident 
from the Gospels, the inspired account of Our Lord's life written by Saints Matthew, 
Mark, Luke, and John. Christ gave the apostles the power to bind and loose, to baptize, 
to forgive sin, and to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. 

(b) The power to teach and to rule is the power of jurisdiction; the power to sanctify is 
the power of orders. The power to sanctify sometimes requires jurisdiction, as in the 
sacrament of Penance. 

146. Did Christ intend that this power should be exercised by the apostles alone? 

No, Christ intended that this power should be exercised also by their successors, the 
bishops of the Church. 

(a) Christ founded the Church to last until the end of time. The apostles lived for a short time only. Christ must, then, have intended that the apostles provide duly authorized successors to carry on the work of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling. 

(b) The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Saint Paul contain references to the work done by the successors of the apostles. 

147. Did Christ give special power in His Church to any one of the apostles? 

Christ gave special power in His Church to Saint Peter by making him the head of the 
apostles and the chief teacher and ruler of the entire Church. 

(a) The power of the keys was promised to Saint Peter and was actually conferred on

(b) Saint Peter was recognized by the early Christians from the beginning as the head of 
the Church. 

148. Did Christ intend that the special power of chief teacher and ruler of the entire Church should be exercised by Saint Peter alone? 

Christ did not intend that the special power of chief teacher and ruler of the entire Church should be exercised by Saint Peter alone, but intended that this power should be passed down to his successor, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, who is the Vicar of Christ on earth and the visible head of the Church. 

(a) A successor to Saint Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, was required as chief teacher 
and ruler for the same reason that successors were required for the other apostles. From 
the very beginning it was acknowledged by the Church that the successor of Saint Peter 
as Bishop of Rome was at the same time the head of the entire Church. This successor of 
Saint Peter is called the Pope. 

(b) The bishops of the Church are the successors of the apostles because they have 
received their power of orders by valid consecration through an unbroken line of 
successors of the apostles, and have received their power of jurisdiction through their 
union with the Pope, the successor of Saint Peter. 

(c) The Pope is now elected by the College of Cardinals. 

149. Who assist the bishops in the care of souls? 

The priests, especially parish priests, assist the bishops in the care of souls. 

(a) Although all priests assist the bishop of a diocese in the care of souls, parish priests 
especially are given the definite care of a section of a diocese, which is called a parish 
and is of ecclesiastical institution. 

150. Who are the laity of the Church? The laity of the Church are all its members who do not belong to the clerical or to the religious state.

(a) The clerical state includes all priests and all aspirants to the priesthood who have 
received tonsure, which is the initiation into the ecclesiastical state. Students of minor and major seminaries are aspirants to the priesthood. 

(b) The religious state includes men and women who embrace a community life and make the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Those who are preparing to embrace the religious state are called aspirants, postulants, or novices. 

(c) Religious and clerics enjoy special canonical privileges and have many more obligations than lay people have. 

(d) Among the laity are secular persons who have embraced the state of celibacy or  virginity, or the matrimonial state. 

151. How con the laity help the Church in her care of souls?

The laity can help the Church in her care of souls by leading lives that will reflect credit on the Church, and by co-operating with their bishops and priests, especially through  Catholic Action. 

(a) The lay people can assist in a special way by prayer.

(b) Catholic Action is the participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy of the Church. There can be no Catholic Action without an episcopal commission. 

The Marks and Attributes of the Church

152. Which is the one true Church established by Christ?

The one true Church established by Christ is the Catholic Church. 

(a) Many churches which claim to be Christian have broken away from the one true 
Church established by Jesus Christ. These churches were founded by men who had no 
authority from God to found a church. 

(b) Christ intended that there should be only one true Christian Church, for He always 
spoke of His Church as one. 

153. How do we know that the Catholic Church is the one true Church established by Christ? 

We know that the Catholic Church is the one true Church established by Christ because 
it alone has the marks of the true Church. 

154. What do we mean by the marks of the Church?

By the marks of the Church we mean certain clear signs by which all men can recognize 
it as the true Church founded by Jesus Christ. 

(a) Jesus Christ willed that the true Church should have these marks, which would 
distinguish it from all false religions. 

155. What are the chief marks of the Church?

The chief marks of the Church are four: It is one, holy, catholic or universal, and 

(a) Sacred Scripture teaches that the one true Church of Christ must have these marks. 

(b) The marks of the Church are themselves an indication that God guides the Church. 

156. Why is the Catholic Church one?

The Catholic Church is one because all its members, according to the will of Christ, 
profess the same faith, have the same sacrifice and sacraments, and are united under 
one and the same visible head, the Pope. 

(a) Our Divine Savior prayed explicitly that His Church might be one, and He made it one; thus men can recognize it as the true Church. 

(b) Only the Catholic Church possesses this mark of unity. Various sects, having only 
fragments of Christianity, are divided in doctrine and practice and recognize no authority but their own judgment, which can easily lead them into error. 

(c) There are many religious sects which claim to be Christian, but are separated from 
the unity of Christ by their rejection of the authority invested by Him in the Roman Pontiff, the successor to Saint Peter. 

(d) Catholics accept all the doctrines of faith and morals which were taught by Our Lord and the apostles and are proposed by the Church for belief and practice. A person who deliberately denies even one of the doctrines of the Church cannot be a Catholic. The Church is one in faith. 

(e) Catholics take part in the same sacrifice of the Mass and accept the same sacraments, 
although the same language and the same ceremonies are not used by all in the offering of Mass and in the administration of the sacraments. Everywhere the essential parts of the ceremonies are the same and substantially the same words are used in offering Mass. Hence the Church is one in worship. What Christ determined, the Church cannot change. Since Christ, however, did not determine many points of worship in non-essential matters, the Church has the authority to do so. 

(f) Catholics are subject to their respective bishops who rule them. They must recognize 
the supreme authority of the Pope in matters of religion. A person who deliberately refuses to accept the legitimate and supreme authority of the Pope and the bishops in matters of religion cannot be a Catholic. 

157. Why is the Catholic Church holy? 

The Catholic Church is holy because it was founded by Jesus Christ, who is all-holy, and because it teaches, according to the will of Christ, holy doctrines, and provides the means of leading a holy life, thereby giving holy members to every age. 

(a) Holiness is a mark of the Church according to the will of Christ, as is evident from the prayer of Christ for His apostles. 

(b) Even some of the enemies of the Church recognize the holiness of the doctrines which the Church teaches. The efforts of others to prove that the Church is not holy show that they acknowledge holiness as a mark of truth. 

(c) The lives of the saints, of the martyrs, and of good Catholics prove how effective are 
the means of grace with which the Church is endowed. Moreover, God has always  favored the Catholic Church with miracles. 

(d) Bad Catholics do not disprove the holiness of the Church since they do not use the 
means of grace at their disposal. Christ foretold that there would be good and bad 
members of His Church as we read in the parables of the fishes in the net and the cockle among the wheat. 

158. Why is the Catholic Church catholic or universal?

The Catholic Church is catholic or universal because, destined to last for all time, it never fails to fulfill the divine commandment to teach all nations all the truths revealed by God. 

(a) Catholicity is a mark of the Church because Christ commissioned His apostles to go 
forth and make disciples of all nations, and to teach all that He had commanded. Christ 
further promised to be with them all days, even to the end of time. 

(b) The Church today teaches the same doctrine it received from Christ. It has existed 
uninterruptedly since the day it was established down to the present time. The Church 
exists in a more flourishing condition in some nations than in others. It is always trying to preach the gospel to all races and in all places and sends its missioners to the most remote places on earth. 

(c) Christian sects began later and for the most part exist in only some sections of the  world. In trying to accommodate themselves to the changing conditions of the time, they have made changes in the doctrines of Christ without any divine authorization. 

159. Why is the Catholic Church apostolic?

The Catholic Church is apostolic because it was founded by Christ on the apostles and, 
according to His divine will, has always been governed by their lawful successors. 

(a) The true Church is apostolic because it is the Church Christ founded upon the  apostles, and especially upon Peter whom He called the Rock on which the Church 
would be built. The supreme power of Saint Peter in the Church has been passed down 
through the unbroken line of his successors in the see of Rome. 

160. How do we know that no other church but the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ?

We know that no other church but the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ 
because no other church has these four marks. 

(a) All other churches lack essential unity. They recognize no authority in religious 
matters vested in an individual who is the vicar of Christ. In the worship of God many 
Christian sects are guided more by sentiment and personal conviction than by the 
objective truths given to the world by Our Lord. 

(b) The founders of Christian sects were not saints and generally were not holy or edifying men. The sects have not given saints to the world. Their truths are but fragments of the doctrines of the Catholic Church. The holiness of their members is due to the means that the sects have salvaged from Catholic worship. Moreover, these sects cannot point to miracles wrought in their favor. 

(c) Not one of the Christian sects is universal or catholic; that is, not one has universality such as that of the Catholic Church.

(d) Not one of the Christian sects can trace its origin to the apostles. 

(e) The Greek Orthodox or Schismatic Church began in the ninth century with its rejection of the authority of the Pope. From it have come various national churches, subject in some degree to civil authority. The Protestant churches began in the sixteenth century when their founders, rejecting certain doctrines of faith, broke away from Catholic unity. Many Protestant denominations are offshoots of the earliest sects. The Lutherans were founded by Martin Luther, the Presbyterians by John Knox, and the Methodists by John Wesley. 

161. What are the chief attributes of the Catholic Church?

The chief attributes of the Catholic Church are authority, infallibility, and indefectibility. They are called attributes because they are qualities perfecting the nature of the Church. 

162. What is meant by the authority of the Catholic Church? 

By the authority of the Catholic Church is meant that the Pope and the bishops, as the 
lawful successors of the apostles, have power from Christ Himself to teach, to sanctify, 
and to govern the faithful in spiritual matters. 

(a) Christ Himself gave this authority to Saint Peter and the other apostles when He 
bestowed the power of binding and loosing, of teaching and baptizing. He implicitly 
guaranteed the same power to the successors of the apostles when He promised to be 
with them all days, even to the consummation of the world. 

(b) Outside the Church there generally is no real recognition of authority in spiritual 
matters and this disregard for spiritual authority has lessened the respect for civil and 
domestic authority. 

(c) The Church has authority over temporal matters which are closely connected with 
spiritual matters, as the administration of Church property. 

(d) The Pope, as the supreme head of the Church, cannot rightly be made a subject of 
any temporal power on earth. The present position of the Pope, as head of the Vatican 
City, shows to the world that he and his household are not the subjects of other temporal powers. When we speak of the temporal power of the Pope, we do not mean thereby merely to classify him with earthly rulers. The Pope's temporal power is a means to an end, guaranteeing that freedom of word and action which he must rightfully enjoy as the supreme spiritual ruler of the Church. 

163. What is meant by the infallibility of the Catholic Church?

By the infallibility of the Catholic Church is meant that the Church, by the special  assistance of the Holy Ghost, cannot err when it teaches or believes a doctrine of faith 
or morals. 

(a) Infallibility, especially papal infallibility, is a doctrine often misunderstood and derided by those outside the Church. The term "infallibility" is often distorted to mean  impeccability, that is, freedom from all sin. The Church has never held that the Pope  cannot sin. 

(b) It is unthinkable that an institution established by God for the salvation of souls could lead men into error and turn them away from God. If the Church could and did err in matters of faith or morals it would not be a true teacher; it would fail in its ministry of sanctification and would not lead men to salvation but would be responsible for their condemnation. 

(c) A doctrine of faith or morals is a truth revealed by God dealing with what we must believe or what we must do in order to be saved. 

(d) The Church cannot change its defined teachings on faith and morals though it may 
restate them more clearly and more completely. 

(e) We know that the Church is infallible in matters of faith or morals because Christ 
promised that He would be with the apostles and their successors in their work of teaching until the end of time. It would be impossible for Christ to be with the official teachers of the Church and permit them to teach error. 

164. When does the Church teach infallibly? 

The Church teaches infallibly when it defines, through the Pope alone, as the teacher of all Christians, or through the Pope and the bishops, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by all the faithful. 

(a) The Holy Father must intend to use his supreme, apostolic authority when he teaches infallibly. 

(b) The Pope can teach without speaking infallibly; -for example, he does this in his 
encyclical letters. Catholics must accept such teachings, not on faith, but in obedience to 
the authority of the Pope and in respect for his wisdom. 

165. What is meant by the indefectibility of the Catholic Church? 

By the indefectibility of the Catholic Church is meant that the Church, as Christ founded it, will last until the end of time. 

(a) This indefectibility of the Church is in conformity with the will of Christ, who promised to be with His Church until the end of time. 

166. Are all obliged to belong to the Catholic Church in order to be saved?

All are obliged to belong to the Catholic Church in order to be saved. 

(a) The principle, "It makes no difference what religion a person practices so long as he 
leads a good life," is deceptive because it attaches the same importance to the teaching  and practice of a false religion as it does to the teaching and practice of the one, true  religion revealed by Christ and taught by His Church. No one can be saved without  sanctifying grace, and the Catholic Church alone is the divinely established means by 
which grace is brought to the world and the full fruits of Our Lord's Redemption are 
applied to men. 

167. What do we mean when we say, "Outside the Church there is no salvation"? 

When we say, "Outside the Church there is no salvation," we mean that those who through their own grave fault do not know that the Catholic Church is the true Church or, knowing it, refuse to join it, cannot be saved. 

(a) "Outside the Church there is no salvation" does not mean that everyone who is not a 
Catholic will be condemned. It does mean that no one can be saved unless he belongs in some manner to the Catholic Church, either actually or in desire, for the means of grace are not given without some relation to the divine institution established by Christ. 

168. Can they be saved who remain outside the Catholic Church because they do not  know it is the true Church? 

They who remain outside the Catholic Church through no grave fault of their own and do not know it is the true Church, can be saved by making use of the graces which God gives them. 

(a) Those who are outside the Church through no fault of their own are not culpable in the sight of God because of their invincible ignorance. 

(b) Persons who make use of the graces God gives them, even though they are not  members of the true Church, actually have the desire to become members inasmuch as 
they wish to use all the means ordained by God for their salvation. 

(c) We should pray and try to persuade others to investigate the teachings of the Catholic Church because charity obliges us to do all we can to lead others to salvation. We should also pray for Catholic missioners and help them in their work of bringing the faith to those outside the Catholic Church. 

169. Why is the Catholic Church called the Mystical Body of Christ? 

The Catholic Church is called the Mystical Body of Christ because its members are united by supernatural bonds with one another and with Christ, their Head, thus resembling the members and head of the living human body.

Taken from Chapter 11 and 12 of the Baltimore Catechism No. 3.