The Four Marks of the Church: The Contemporary Crisis in Ecclesiology

We need to mount a robust defense and clear advocacy of the Church’s four marks, for without such an apology, the Church’s identity – what she truly is – will become disordered, and so will enfeeble her ability to live and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

(CNS photo by Nancy Wiechec)

Note: The following keynote address was delivered at a conference sponsored by the Notre Dame University (Sydney, Australia) on the “The Church in the 21st Century” and is posted here by kind permission of Fr. Weinandy.

The Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed (381 AD) professes that we believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Each mark, in its fullness, must be properly conceived and articulated, and yet only together, in their perichoretic relationship, do they form the theological foundation of the Church’s authentic self-understanding. Without them the Church’s own self-identity would become opaque, possessing no discernable defining character, and so would be exposed to any and every imposed guise – either by herself or from without. Moreover, these four ecclesial marks are most fully expressed and most abundantly nurtured within the Eucharist liturgy.

In this talk I will argue for the above in the following way. First, I will examine, at some length, St. Ignatius of Antioch’s seven letters. Second, I will examine, more briefly, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Each text perceives the Church’s revealed identity within these four defining marks. Lastly, with the aid of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, I will contend that these four defining ecclesial marks are presently at risk. This threat comes not only from within the Catholic theological community, but even and regrettably from within Church leadership. Because of this danger I will conclude by advocating the need to mount a robust defense and clear advocacy of the Church’s four marks. Without such an apology, the Church’s identity – what she truly is – will become disordered, and so will enfeeble her ability to live and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This enfeeblement, then, will also be most visibly enacted within the Eucharistic liturgy which will not only cause scandal but also, and more importantly, demean the Eucharistic liturgy as the supreme enactment of the Church being One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

St. Ignatius of Antioch: The Eucharistic Oneness of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

You may be wondering why I have chosen Ignatius of Antioch as my starting point since he lived almost two millennia before the Second Vatican Council and John Paul II. I have done so because I consider Ignatius to be one of the most prophetically advanced theologians within the Church’s long theological tradition. Actually, as an Apostolic Father (d. 107) who was acquainted with much of the written New Testament, Ignatius helped to initiate what would become the Church’s theological tradition.1 Importantly, for our topic, Ignatius is the first to bear witness to the distinctive hierarchical structure of the Church – the existence of bishops, priests, deacons and laity. He did not argue for this ecclesial arrangement, but presumed that it had faithfully and naturally developed from within the earliest apostolic churches – the nascent Christian communities of which he was himself a participating bishop member. What Ignatius did do within his seven letters was develop an ecclesiology that embodied the four ecclesial marks, though he would not have thought to employ that theological designation. As we will see, in so doing, Ignatius was prophetically anticipating Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, as well as John Paul II’s encyclical concerning the foundational supporting and nourishing inter-relationship between the Church and the Eucharist.

Unity, for Ignatius, is the Church’s supreme present expression as well as her definitive goal. Ignatius exhorts Bishop Polycarp: “Give thought especially to unity, for there is nothing more important than this” (Ad Poly. 1).2 To the Magnesians Ignatius writes: “I pray for their [all of the churches] corporate as well as their spiritual unity – both of these are the gifts of Jesus Christ, our never-failing Life” (Ad Mag. 1). He closes his letter with this final appeal: “Farewell. See that there is a godly unity among you, and a spirit that is above all divisions; for this is Jesus Christ” (Ad Mag. 15). Ignatius assures the Philadelphians that he did his “part as one dedicated to the cause of unity; for where disunion and bad blood exist, God can never be dwelling” (Ad Phil. 8). The Smyrnaeans, since they live in Christ and in communion with the Holy Spirit, participate “in the Divine Unity” (Ad Smy. 12). Unity is Jesus’ utmost gift for it is the gift of himself in whom the Church is assumed into the divine intimacy of the Trinity.

If unity is the Church’s aim, faith, for Ignatius, is the justifying source of that oneness. He exalts in the Smyrnaeans: “Glory be Jesus Christ, the Divine One, who has gifted you with such wisdom. I have seen how immovably settled in faith you are; nailed body and soul, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and rooted and grounded in love by His blood. You hold the firmest convictions about our Lord” (Ad Smy. 1). In particular it is the faith of the Apostles that establishes the Church’s oneness. Ignatius tells the Ephesians that “Christians who in the power of the Jesus Christ have ever been of the self-same mind as the Apostles” (Ad Eph. 11; cf. Ad Phil. 4). Moreover, Jesus Christ, as already seen in the above quotes, is the sole source of this ecclesial unity for through faith in him all are united to him and to one another, and together, in communion with the Holy Spirit, are united to the one God and Father of all. Echoing Paul, Ignatius professes that Christians are one new man in Christ since they are “united in faith” and so become one in him (Ad Eph. 20; cf. Ad Smy. 4; Ad Mag. 12). The ultimate and greatest effect of faith is that all “be one with Jesus and the Father” (Ad Mag. 1).

This ecclesial oneness through the unity of faith in Jesus Christ is witnessed in the faithful being united to their bishop in whom this unity of ecclesial faith is personified. For Ignatius, there is a hierarchal unifying sequence. To honor the bishop is not so much to respect him as to esteem “the Father of him who is the Bishop of us all, Jesus Christ” (Ad Mag. 3). As one would obey the supreme bishop, Christ, so one is to obey him who is a bishop of the Bishop, Christ himself (cf. Ad Mag. 3, 6-7; Ad Tral. 2; Ad Phil. 3; Ad Smy. 8-9). Ignatius tells the Ephesians how privileged they are: “If I myself reached such an intimacy with your bishop in a brief space of time – an intimacy that was less of this world than of the Spirit – how much more fortunate must I count you, who are as inseparably one with him as the Church is with Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ with the Father; so constituting one single harmonious unity throughout” (Ad Eph. 5). Here we perceive again a logical sequence of causal unity. To be united to the bishop is to be unity with the Church and to be united to the Church is to be in unity with Jesus and to be united to Jesus is to be in unity with his Father. And this oneness is founded, as Ignatius states above, upon the intimacy of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, Ignatius encourages the Magnesians:

Do your utmost to stand firm in the precepts of the Lord and the Apostles, so that everything you do, worldly or spiritual, may go prosperously from beginning to end in faith and love, in the Son and the Father and the Spirit, together with your most reverend bishop and that beautifully-woven spiritual chaplet, your clergy and godly minded deacons. Be as submissive to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ was to his Father, and as the Apostles were to Christ and the Father; so that there may be complete unity, in the flesh as well as in the spirit (Ad Mag. 13).3

For Ignatius, then, the bishop is the cornerstone of this ecclesial and apostolic unity for “where the bishop is to be seen, there let all of his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the world-wide [catholic] Church” (Ad Smy. 8).4 Moreover, “we can have no life apart from Jesus Christ; and as he represents the mind of the Father, so our bishops, even those in the remotest parts of the world, represent the mind of Jesus Christ” (Ad Eph. 3). Ignatius employs the analogy of an orchestral symphony and choir. Priests are to be attuned to their bishop “like strings on a harp” that results in praise of Jesus for their “minds are in unison” and their affections are “in harmony.” Therefore, the laity are to “come and join this choir, every one of you; let there be a whole symphony of minds in concert; take the tone all together from God, and sing aloud to the Father with one voice through Jesus Christ, so that he may hear you and know by your good works that you are indeed members of his Son’s Body. A completely united front will help to keep you in constant communion with God” (Ad Eph. 4).

This ecclesial oneness in Christ and in his Church, in turn, empowers Christians to perform the deeds of holiness, for only holy Christians within the holy Church are able to accomplish holy acts of love. Ignatius assures the Ephesians:

Men who are carnal are no more capable of acting spiritually, nor spiritual men of acting carnally, than deeds of unbelief are possible for the faithful, or deeds of faith to the unbelieving. But with you, even what you do in the flesh is spiritual, for your actions are all done in Jesus Christ (Ad Eph. 8).


Given a thorough-going faith and love for Jesus Christ, there is nothing in all this that will not be obvious to you; for life begins and ends with those two qualities. Faith is the beginning, and love is the end; and the union of the two together is God. All that makes for a soul’s perfection follows in their train, for nobody who professes faith will commit sin, and nobody who possesses love can feel hatred. As the tree is known by its fruits, so they who claim to belong to Christ are known by their actions; for this work of ours does not consist in just professions, but in a faith that is both practical and lasting (Ad Eph. 14).

The Church is the fount of all holiness for its source is Jesus, who as the Christ, pours out his Holy Spirit upon all who believe in him. In this Spirit all of the faithful enact the holy deeds of love.

What we perceive in all of the above is Ignatius’s clear perception that as the Trinity of persons constitutes the one holy God, so within the economy of salvation the Father through his Son, Jesus, and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, establishes the one, holy, catholic Church. This Church comprises all who believe in Christ. Being one in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Christians thus become children of the Father. This oneness finds its ecclesial apostolic expression in the faithful being united to their bishops, the successors of the Apostles, and with the priests and deacons, for to be in communion with the Bishop and his apostolic council is to be united to Jesus in the Spirit and so born into the life of the Father – the fount and consummation of all oneness.

This ecclesial oneness of apostolic faith, for Ignatius, is supremely expressed and enacted within the Eucharist, for here all the faithful are united around their one bishop to celebrate one sacred liturgy whereby all become most fully one in Christ Jesus and so made holy in communion with his Eucharistic presence. Though he did not articulate it explicitly, Ignatius grasps that the Eucharist supremely embodies and so most fully makes actual all four marks of the Church.

Because those who espouse erroneous doctrines cast themselves outside of the Church and her Eucharistic assembly, Ignatius urges the Philadelphians:

Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice – even as also there is but one Bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow-servitors the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God (Ad Phil. 4).

Ignatius warns the Ephesians that no one should “be under any illusion; a man who excludes himself from the sanctuary is depriving himself of the bread of God, for if the prayer of one or two has such efficacy, how much more powerful is that of the bishop together with his whole church. Anyone who absents himself from the congregation convicts himself at once of arrogance and becomes self-excommunicate” (Ad Eph. 5; cf. Ad Smy. 8). Only those who are “in a state of grace” and are “united in faith” and so one “in Christ Jesus” are ready “to share in the one common breaking of bread – the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Jesus Christ for evermore” (Ad Eph. 20; cf. ibid. 13).

Significantly, Ignatius does not extol the ecclesial importance of the Eucharist without simultaneously speaking of those who are incapable of joining in the Eucharistic assembly. By its very nature the Eucharist is a living enactment of Church’s oneness, a unity founded upon the one universal apostolic faith though which the faithful are united to their bishop, and so in communion with Jesus Christ, the head of his body the Church. Only those, therefore, who are in a state of grace, and so conjoined to the Church, are able to participate in this supreme sacrament of faith. Heretics, those who reject the apostolic faith of the one, holy, catholic Church of Christ, literally ex-communicate themselves from being in communion with the Church, and so render themselves incapable of receiving Jesus in communion. Only those in communion with the Church are able “to go to communion” within the Eucharistic liturgy. The Gnostics bear witness to this for “they even absent themselves from the Eucharist and the public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins and which the Father in his goodness afterwards raised up again” (Ad Smy. 7).

Heresy, for Ignatius, is thus fundamentally destructive: it destroys the oneness of the Church by denying the universal apostolic faith, the very universal apostolic faith that constitutes the oneness of the Church. Thus, Ignatius is adamant: “No man who is responsible for defiling a household can expect to share in the kingdom of God…; how much more when a man’s subversive doctrines defile the God-given faith for which Jesus Christ was crucified. Such a wretch in his uncleanness is bound for the unquenchable fire, and so is anyone else who gives him a hearing” (Ad Eph. 16). Ignatius constantly warns the faithful to guard themselves “carefully against such men of that sort” and especially to “close your ears, then, if anyone [the Gnostics] preaches to you without speaking of Jesus Christ” who was truly born in the flesh, truly suffered and died in the flesh and is truly risen in the flesh (Ad Tral. 7 & 9). “Flee for your very life from these men; they are poisonous growth with a deadly fruit, and one taste of it is speedily fatal. They are not of the Father’s planting” for they deny the passion, cross and death of Jesus and so deny that he is the head of his body, “for the promise that we have from God is the promise of unity, which is the essence of himself” (Ad Tral. 11). For Ignatius, heresy is absolutely detestable precisely because it abolishes the unity of the Church, and it does so by denying the Church’s one, catholic and apostolic faith.

In concluding our study of Ignatius of Antioch, I want to make two final points. First, Ignatius wrote to six churches, five of which had compassionately sent their bishop and representatives to visit him while he made his martyr’s journey to Rome. He likewise wrote a letter ahead of himself to the church of Rome. He did so for the sole purpose of discouraging that church from meddling in and so obstructing his imminent martyrdom. He wrote his seventh letter to his good friend, Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna. While all of these were individual local churches with their own presiding bishop, Ignatius clearly presumed that they all believed the same apostolic doctrine; that they all participated in the same sacramental practice; and that they all taught and upheld the same moral precepts. Thus, these individual churches were in universal communion with one another. Not only did each bear witness to their being one, holy, catholic and apostolic, but together they also bore communal witness to these same ecclesial marks. No one church possessed a distinctive doctrinal or ethical defining difference from the others. They all enjoyed the same identifying ecclesial characteristics that were evident to all – both within and outside the Christian faith. This ecclesial communion among the individual local churches, along with what makes them one in themselves and among themselves, will be important when we examine the present ecclesial crises surrounding the four marks of the Church.5

Secondly, Ignatius was acutely aware of the destructiveness of heretical teaching, for such erroneous teaching eliminated the very ecclesial marks that defined the Church. He, nonetheless, appears to be naïve in that he strongly gives the impression throughout his letters that bishops, by the very nature of their office, could never be heretics themselves. We see this in his constant emphasis and adamant demand that the faithful unwaveringly be obedient and loyal to their respective bishops. What is to be made of such seeming naiveté? Ignatius may have been in the enviable position of never having encountered a heretical bishop, but if he ever did chance upon one, he would have had a ready response at hand. He would clearly have argued in the same manner that we have observed in our above study. For a bishop to espouse heretical teaching, whether concerning doctrine, morals, or pastoral and sacramental practice which bears upon doctrine and morals, Ignatius would have contended that such a bishop no longer was in union with the catholic ecclesial community for he no longer professed the one apostolic faith of the Church and thus rendered himself incapable of exercising fully his office as bishop. He could no longer teach and govern as an authentic successor of the Apostles, nor could he preside over the Eucharistic liturgy in a manner that bore witness to and enriched the oneness of the holy catholic Church. Simply put, such a heretical bishop would no longer bear within himself as a bishop the four defining marks of the Church and, therefore, he could no longer justifiably act as an ecclesial member within the Church. He may continue to act outside the Church, or even within the Church, but his actions would lack a genuine ecclesial character, for the essential and indispensable four marks of the church would be absent within his specious ministry. Such, I believe, would be Ignatius’ rejoinder to a heretical bishop. And an argument I will similarly employ in face of our contemporary ecclesial crisis.

The Second Vatican Council: The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church

Lumen Gentium and the Four Marks of the Church

Now we will examine the Church’s four marks within the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – Lumen Gentium. Before we do, however, we need to remember that concern for the Church’s oneness, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity did not jump from Ignatius to Vatican II. Such attention was always present, and markedly came to the fore with Pius XII’s encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi. For him, the one Body of Christ is founded upon the harmony of her apostolic faith and the universality of her calling to make all humankind holy. Pius’s encyclical, then, was the direct prelude to Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. What may seem surprising, then, is that Lumen Gentium does not allocate a specific treatment to the marks of the Church, but rather speaks of them within various ecclesial topics. Nonetheless, their importance is evident throughout, and, not unexpectedly, in accord with the thought of Ignatius of Antioch.

From the very onset, the Constitution, like Ignatius, emphasizes the foundational mark of oneness. For the Council, Christ is the light of the world and his light visibly shines forth in the Church. Therefore, “the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of a sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and the unity among men” (LG. 1).6 While contemporary humankind is drawn together ever more closely, “it still remains for them to achieve full unity in Christ” (ibid.). Having established the foundational ecclesial theme of unity, the Constitution allots a paragraph to each of the persons of the Trinity, and in so doing brings to the fore the other defining marks of the Church.

First, the Father determined, from the time of Adam, and specifically in his making a covenant with Abraham, “to call together in a holy Church those who should believe in Christ” (ibid. 2). This summons will find its completion at the end of time when all the elect “will be gathered together with the Father in the universal Church” (ibid.). Second, concerning the Son, the Father sent the Son into the world precisely to restore all things in him (cf. Eph. 1:4-5). Therefore, all “are called to this union with Christ, who is the light of the world, from whom we go forth, through whom we live, towards whom our whole life is directed” (ibid. 3). In the Eucharist, then, “the unity of believers is both expressed and brought about” (ibid.). Third, concerning the Holy Spirit, Jesus, the incarnate Son, having completed his salvific work sent for the Holy Spirit “that he might continually sanctify the Church, and that, consequently, those who believe might have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father” (ibid. 4). Through the “hierarchic and charismatic gifts,” the Spirit constantly renews the Church and leads her “to perfect union with her Spouse” (ibid.). Having summarized the work of each person of the Trinity, the council concludes: “Hence the universal Church is seen to be ‘a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’” (ibid.).7

The Council, in these three paragraphs, has articulated the four marks of the Church, and in so doing has echoed Ignatius. The source and end of the Church’s oneness is founded upon the unity of the Trinity. Within the economy of salvation this unity is achieved in the Father uniting all believers in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Moreover, as the Body of Christ, the Church embodies and fosters this communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Thus, the mark of perfect oneness also resides in the marital relationship of the Church being the Spouse of Christ. As the Constitution progresses, it not only re-affirms what it articulated concerning the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but also expands its teaching. As the Head of his Body, Jesus, as the Christ, bestows the mark of holiness upon his Church, for the Holy Spirit “functions as the principle of life, the soul” (ibid. 7) and, thus imbues the Church with a life of holiness. As the Savior and Lord of all, Jesus also confers upon his Church the mark of universality for “all men are called to this catholic unity which prefigures and promotes universal peace” (ibid. 13). The Council further states: “For by communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as his body those brothers of his who are called together from every nation” (ibid. 7). Likewise, through the hierarchic and charismatic gifts, Jesus, through the Spirit, gives to the Church an ecclesial structure that bears the mark of apostolicity, a mark that ensures that all of the Spirit’s gifts and graces flourish for the up-building of his Body (cf. ibid.). The Constitution emphasizes that the “foundation of the Church is built by the apostles (cf. I Cor. 3:11) and from it the Church receives solidarity and unity” (ibid. 6). Specifically, “the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of bishops and of the whole company of faithful” (ibid. 23). Moreover, “in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided he [Jesus] put Peter at the head of the apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and communion” (ibid. 18; cf. 19 and 20). This unity among the episcopate is principally exercised within counsels and synods (cf. ibid. 23 and 25). Moreover, episcopal conferences also contribute to “safeguarding the unity of the faith and the unique divine structure of the universal Church,” “for all bishops have the obligation of fostering and safeguarding the unity of faith and of upholding the discipline which is common to the whole Church…” (ibid. 23). This ecclesial unity of doctrine and morals, which manifests the four marks of the Church, are expressed and nurtured within the sacraments, especially within the Eucharist. In this sacrament Jesus most fully unites himself to his earthly Church, his Body, and confers upon her his universal and apostolic holiness (cf. ibid. 7).8

The Council also accentuates, in the light of some Reformation erroneous views, that the holy Church of Christ is both visible and invisible and not two separate realities; as if the visible is of human origin and the invisible is of divine origin. This truth pertains to the Church’s sacramentality, for in and through her visible structure and sacramental acts, the grace of Christ is endowed upon the faithful and the world. Thus, as in the Incarnation where the visible humanity is one with and so manifests the divinity of the Son, so the visible Church is one with and so manifests all of her invisible graces. The Constitution accentuates that the one visible and invisible Church “is the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic…”(ibid. 8). Moreover, it deems that “this Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him” (ibid.). The four marks of the Church are, then, most spiritually present and most visibly manifested within the Catholic Church for in her they fully subsist. These ecclesial subsisting four marks of the universal Church are realized and manifested not only within the Church as a whole but also within each of the individual local churches. In communion with the local apostolic bishop, especially within the celebration of the Eucharist, “these communities, though they may often be small and poor, or existing in the diaspora, Christ is present through whose power and influence the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is constituted” (ibid. 26). In this light the Council clearly designates and defines those who are fully members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Fully incorporated into the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all of the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and who – by the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesial government, and communion – are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but “in body” and not “in heart” (ibid. 14).9

To be a full member of the Church demands that one share the faith of the visible Church, participate in the visible sacraments of the Church and be in communion with and be governed by the visible structure of the Church, for only in so doing does one live within the one, universal, and apostolic Church of Christ in which the full means of the Spirit’s holiness resides. Significantly, the Council notes that, if one does not persevere in charity because of sinning gravely, one is still a member of the Church, but one no longer partakes of the Church’s life; for one no longer shares in her oneness, holiness, universality and apostolicity – for these are the means, the bond, and the fruit of ecclesial love.10

Having examined the four marks of the Church within the teaching of Ignatius of Antioch and Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, I now want to address the crisis that I perceive presently exists within the Church – a crisis in which the four marks of the Church are under subtle, but well-defined, attack. I will do so in reference not only to Ignatius and Lumen Gentium, but also to John Paul II’s encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, for here he already identifies some of the assaults on the four marks of the Church and clearly responds to them.

The Contemporary Challenge to the Four Marks of the Church and its Eucharistic Impact

Prior to and following upon Vatican II, St. Pope John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI, in their respective encyclicals, Mater et Magistra and Ecclesiam Suam, stressed the importance of the Church’s teaching office – a ministry that fostered and upheld the apostolic faith so as to assure the one, universal, holiness of God’s people. John Paul II, then, not only follows upon Ignatius and Vatican II, but places himself squarely within the immediate preceding papacies. Thus, John Paul steadfastly holds that oneness is the fundamental and indispensable mark of the Church. He writes in Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

The Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 1985 saw in the concept of an “ecclesiology of communion” the central and foundational idea of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The Church is called during her earthly pilgrimage to maintain and promote communion with the Triune God and communion among the faithful. For this purpose she possesses the word and the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, by which she “constantly lives and grows” and in which she expresses her very nature. It is not by chance that the term communion has become one of the names given to this sublime sacrament (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 34).11

Granted the post-Vatican II Church was rife with divisions – disputes over doctrine, morals and the liturgy. These disagreements continue still. However, at no time during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI was there ever any doubt as to what the Church teaches concerning her doctrine, morals, and liturgical practice. Both recognized that what truly made the Church one is her unalterable apostolic and universal faith, and her sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as fount and means of her holiness. They, therefore, faithfully taught, clearly developed, and ardently promoted the Church’s doctrinal and moral teaching, and her authentic sacramental practice – all for the sake of guaranteeing and fostering her ecclesial communion. Such is not the case, in many significant ways, within the present pontificate of Pope Francis.

Challenge to the Church’s Oneness

Much of Pope Francis’s pontificate is admirable and praiseworthy. One only needs to observe, to note a few, his defense of the sanctity of life, his concern for the poor and the marginalized, and his encouragement to the young. At times, nonetheless, it would appear that Pope Francis identifies himself not as the promoter of unity but as the agent of division. His practical philosophy, if it is an intentional philosophy, seems to consist in the belief that a greater unifying good will emerge from the present bedlam of divergent opinions and the turmoil of the resulting divisions. My concern here is that such approach, even if unintentional, strikes at very essence of the Petrine ministry as intended by Jesus and as continuously understood by the Church. The successor of St. Peter, by the very nature of the office, is to be, literally, the personal embodiment and thus the consummate sign of the Church’s ecclesial communion, and so the principle defender and promoter of the Church’s ecclesial communion. Thus, a manner of proceeding that allows and even encourages doctrinal and moral divergences undermines the whole of Vatican II’s teaching on ecclesial communion, as well as that of the entire magisterial and theological tradition going back to Ignatius. By seeming to encourage doctrinal division and moral discord within the Church the present pontificate has transgressed the foundational mark of the Church – her oneness. How, nonetheless, does this offense against the Church’s unity manifest itself? It does so by destabilizing the other three marks of the Church.

Challenge to the Church’s Apostolicity

Firstly, the apostolic nature of the Church is being undermined. As has often been noted by theologians and bishops, and most frequently by the laity (those who possess the sensus fidelium), the teaching of the present pontiff is not noted for its clarity.12 As the one most responsible for the unity of the Church, the pope is the one who is most responsible for ensuring the bond of faith. To be in full ecclesial communion with the apostolic Church, whether it is the pope or the newest convert, it is necessary to believe what the Apostles handed on and what the apostolic Church has consistently taught. For Pope Francis, then, as seen in Amoris Laetitia, to re-conceive and newly express the previously clear apostolic faith and magisterial tradition in a seemingly ambiguous manner, so as to leave confusion and puzzlement within the ecclesial community, is to contradict his own duties as the successor of Peter and to transgress the trust of his fellow bishops, as well as that of priests and the entire faithful. Ignatius would be dismayed at such a situation. If, for him, heretical teaching espoused by those who are only loosely associated with the Church is destructive to the Church’s unity, how much more devastating is ambiguous teaching when authored by a bishop who is divinely charged to ensure ecclesial unity. At least heresy is a clear denial of the apostolic faith and so can be clearly identified and as such properly addressed. Ambiguous teaching, precisely because of its murkiness, cannot be clearly identified, and so is even more troublesome for it fosters uncertainty as to how it is to be understood and thus how it is to be clarified.

Moreover, for Pope Francis to then take sides in the ensuing debate, a debate for which he himself is responsible, concerning the proper interpretation of the uncertain teaching is disingenuous. He has now allowed others to be the arbiter of what is true, when it is precisely the apostolic mandate of the pope to be the one who confirms the brethren, both episcopal and laity, in the truth. Furthermore, to appear to sanction an interpretation of doctrine or morals that contravenes what has been the received apostolic teaching and magisterial tradition of the Church – as dogmatically defined by Councils and doctrinally taught by previous popes and the bishops in communion with him, as well as accepted and believed by the faithful, cannot then be proposed as magisterial teaching. The magisterium simply cannot fundamentally contradict itself concerning matters of faith and morals. While such teaching and confirmation may be enacted by a member of the magisterium, such as the Pope, such teaching and confirmation is not magisterial precisely because it is not in accord with previous magisterial teaching. To act in such a manner, the pontiff, or a bishop for that manner, is acting in a manner that places himself outside the magisterial communion of previous pontiffs and bishops, and so is not a magisterial act. To act in a magisterial manner one has to be, including the pope, in communion with the entire ever-living magisterial tradition. In the matter of faith and morals the teaching of no living pope takes apostolic and magisterial precedence over the magisterial teaching of previous pontiffs or the established magisterial doctrinal tradition. The magisterial and apostolic import of a present pontiff’s teaching lies precisely in its being in conformity with and so in living-communion with the abiding historical magisterial and apostolic tradition. That Pope Francis’ ambiguous teaching at times appears to fall outside the magisterial teaching of the historic apostolic ecclesial community thus gives cause for concern, for it, as stated above, fosters division and disharmony rather than unity and peace within the one apostolic Church. There appears to be, as a consequence, no assurance of faith.

Challenge to the Church’s Catholicity

Secondly, as we saw in examining the ecclesiology of Ignatius and especially Vatican II, all of the bishops throughout the world, who are in communion with the pope, are together responsible for the apostolic oneness of the Church. The universality of the Church is visibly manifested in that all of the particular churches are bound together, through the college of bishops in communion with the pope, by professing the same apostolic faith and by preaching the one universal Gospel to all of humankind. We saw this clearly expressed in Ignatius’ letters. Traditionally, this catholic oneness is most clearly exercised within universal councils and extraordinary synods. Moreover, as Lumen Gentium acknowledges, national bishops’ conferences, while attending to pastoral issues that pertain to their own culture and locale, also exercise this catholicity by safeguarding and promoting the universal doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church as well as insuring that the universal sacramental and liturgical disciplines of the Church are properly observed. Thus, as exemplified in Ignatius and Vatican II, the entire visible hierarchical governance of the universal Church is structured precisely to maintain and promote ecclesial communion – a communion that embodies the one apostolic faith. This mark of catholic oneness is also presently challenged.

Pope Francis’ espousal of synodality has been much touted – the allowance of local geographical churches more self-determinative freedom. On one level this decentralization is welcomed for it encourages national bishops’ conferences and local ordinaries to take more governing responsibility. As envisioned, however, by Pope Francis and advocated by others, this notion of synodality, instead of ensuring the universal oneness of the Catholic Church, an ecclesial communion composed of multiple particular churches, is now employed to undermine and so sanction divisions within the Church. This rupture is not simply on matters of local and national significance, but on issues that bear upon the doctrinal and moral integrity of the one Church of Christ. We are presently witnessing the disintegration of the Church’s catholicity, for local churches, both on the diocesan and national level, are often interpreting doctrinal norms and moral precepts in various conflicting and contradictory ways. Thus, what the faithful are instructed to believe and practice in one diocese or country is not in conformity with what the faithful are instructed to believe and practice in another diocese or country. The Church’s mark of oneness, a unity that the pope is divinely mandated to protect and engender, is losing its integrity because her marks of catholicity and apostolicity have fallen into doctrinal and moral disarray, a theological anarchy that the pope himself, maybe unwittingly, has initiated by advocating a flawed conception of synodality. To put this erroneous notion into practice, then, is to violate the catholicity of the Church herself.

Challenge to the Church’s Holiness

Thirdly, this brings us to the fourth mark of the Church – her holiness. This mark is equally under siege, most especially, but not surprisingly, in relationship to the Eucharist.

For John Paul, Eucharistic communion “confirms the Church in her unity as the body of Christ” (ibid. 23; cf. 24). Because “the Eucharist builds the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist, it follows that there is a profound relationship between the two, so much so that we can apply to the Eucharistic mystery the very words with which, in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, we profess the Church to be ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’” (ibid. 26). Of all the sacraments, therefore, it is “the Most Holy Sacrament” (ibid.). Likewise, it is apostolic for Jesus entrusted it to the Apostles and to their successors (cf. ibid. 27). “The Eucharist thus appears as the culmination of all the sacraments in perfecting our communion with God the Father by identification with his only-begotten Son through the working of the Holy Spirit” (ibid. 34). Since the Eucharist conveys and nurtures most fully the four marks of the Church, John Paul insists:

The celebration of the Eucharist, however, cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. The sacrament is an expression of this bond of communion both in its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church’s hierarchical order. The profound relationship between the invisible and visible elements of ecclesial communion is constitutive of the Church as a sacrament of salvation (ibid. 35).13

In this proclamation, John Paul confirms, as seen above, the teaching of Vatican II, as well echoes, inadvertently, Ignatius’ Eucharistic ecclesiology. To participate fully in the Church’s Eucharist, a liturgy that embodies and cultivates the four marks of the Church, one must also embody the four marks of the Church, for only in so doing is one in full communion with the Church so as to receive communion – the risen body and blood of Jesus, the source and culmination of one’s union with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Quoting from a document promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, John Paul insists: “In fact, the community, in receiving the Eucharistic presence of the Lord, receives the entire gift of salvation and shows, even in its lasting visible form, that is the image and true presence of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” (ibid. 39).14 In the light of this, John Paul proceeds to address those issues that contravene this doctrinal understanding of the Eucharist and the reception of Holy Communion.

The first issue John Paul addresses, and the one that concerns us here, pertains specifically to holiness.15 While one must profess the Church’s one apostolic faith, faith itself is insufficient for receiving Christ in the Eucharist. Referencing Vatican II, John Paul states that “we must persevere in sanctifying grace and love, remaining within the Church ‘bodily’ as well as ‘in our heart’” (ibid. 36).16 At the beginning of the Second Century, Ignatius, as we saw, made this same point – that one can only receive communion “in a state of grace” (Ad. Eph. 20). Thus, in accordance with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Council of Trent, John Paul confirms: “I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul’s stern warning when it affirmed that in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, ‘one must first confess one’s sins, when one is aware of mortal sin’” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 36).17 In accordance with the doctrinal tradition of the Church, John Paul, therefore, insists that the sacrament of Penance is “necessary for full participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice” when mortal sin is present (ibid. 37). While he acknowledges that only the person can judge his or her state of grace, he asserts that “in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved” (ibid.). John Paul intensifies his admonition by quoting Canon Law. Where there is “a manifest lack of proper moral disposition,” that is, according to Canon Law, when persons “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin,” they are “not to be permitted to Eucharistic communion” (ibid.)18

Here we perceive the present challenge to the Church’s holiness and specifically the holiness of the Eucharist. The question of whether divorced and remarried Catholic couples, who engage in marital acts, can receive communion revolves around the very issue of “outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm,” and, therefore, whether they possess “a manifest lack of proper moral disposition” for receiving communion. Pope Francis rightly insists that such couples should be accompanied and so helped to form properly their consciences. Granted that there are extraordinary marital cases where it can be rightfully discerned that a previous marriage was sacramentally invalid, even though evidence for an annulment is unobtainable, thus allowing a couple to receive communion. Nonetheless, the ambiguous manner in which Pope Francis proposes this pastoral accompaniment permits a pastoral situation to evolve whereby the common practice will swiftly ensue that almost every divorced and remarried couple will judge themselves free to receive Holy Communion. This pastoral situation will develop because moral negative commands, such as, “one shall not commit adultery,” are no longer recognized as absolute moral norms that can never be trespassed, but as moral ideals – goals that may be achieved over a period of time, or may never be realized in one’s lifetime.19 In this indefinite interim people can continue, with the Church’s blessing, to strive, as best as they are able, to live “holy” lives, and so receive communion. Such pastoral practice has multiple detrimental doctrinal and moral consequences.

First, to allow those who are objectively in manifest grave sin to receive communion is an overt public attack on the holiness of what John Paul terms “the Most Holy Sacrament.” Grave sin, by its very nature, as Ignatius, Vatican II and John Paul attest, deprives one of holiness, for the Holy Spirit no longer abides within such a person, thus making the person unfit to receive holy communion. For one to receive communion in such a, literally, disgraced state enacts a lie, for in receiving the sacrament one is asserting that one is in communion with Christ, when in actuality one is not. Similarly, such a practice is also an offense against the holiness of the Church. Yes, the Church is composed of saints and sinners, yet, those who do sin, which is everyone, must be repentant-sinners, specifically of grave sin, if they are to participate fully in the Eucharistic liturgy and so receive the most-holy risen body and blood of Jesus. A person who is in grave sin may still be a member of the Church, but as a grave-sinner such a person no longer participates in the holiness of the Church as one of the holy faithful. To receive communion in such an unholy state is, again, to enact a lie for in such a reception one is publicly attempting to testify that one is a graced and living member of the ecclesial community when one is not.

Second, and maybe more importantly, to allow those who persist in manifest grave sin to receive communion, seemingly as an act of mercy, is both to belittle the condemnatory evil of grave sin and to malign the magnitude and power of the Holy Spirit. Such a pastoral practice is implicitly acknowledging that sin continues to govern humankind despite Jesus’ redeeming work and his anointing of the Holy Spirit upon all who believe and are baptized. Jesus is actually not Savior and Lord, but rather Satan continues to reign. Moreover, to sanction persons in grave sin is in no manner a benevolent or loving act, for one is endorsing a state wherein they could be eternally condemned, thus jeopardizing their salvation. Likewise, in turn, one is also insulting such grave-sinners, for one is subtly telling them that they are so sinful that not even the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to help them change their sinful ways and make them holy. They are inherently un-savable. Actually, though, what is ultimately being tendered is the admission that the Church of Jesus Christ is not really holy and so is incapable of truly sanctifying her members.

Lastly, scandal is the public pastoral consequence of allowing persons in unrepentant manifest grave sin to receive Holy Communion. It is not simply that the faithful members of the Eucharistic community will be dismayed and likely disgruntled, but, more importantly, they will be tempted to think that they too can sin gravely and continue in good standing with the Church. Why attempt to live a holy life, even a heroic virtuous life, when the Church herself appears to demand neither such a life, or even to encourage such a life? Here the Church becomes a mockery of herself and such a charade breeds nothing but scorn and disdain in the world, and derision and cynicism among the faithful, or at best, a hope against hope among the little ones.


My conclusion will be brief. Much of what I have said, as you may have gathered, has been stated by others. Some will dismiss it as excessive or even mean-spirited. But that is not my intent or spirit at all. As stated earlier there is much in the character of Pope Francis to admire, and we owe him our daily prayers for strength in facing the burdens of his ministry. However, that cannot excuse us from speaking the truth in love. Anyone experienced in religious life – or for that matter, in a marriage – will understand that sometimes the truth must be spoken bluntly – not out of bitterness, but out of fidelity to the persons involved and to safeguard the purpose they share.

What I have attempted to do, and I hope has been helpful, is place the contemporary crisis within the Church in its proper theological and doctrinal setting, that is, within the Church’s four defining marks. Only when we grasp that the Church’s very oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity are at stake, what makes the Church truly herself, can we fully appreciate the degree and the consequence of the present crisis. The Church’s very identity, our ecclesial communion, is being assailed, and because she is the Church of Christ, Jesus himself is being dishonored along with his saving work. What is presently being offered in its place is an anemic Church, a Church where the Holy Spirit is enfeebled, and so a Church that is incapable of giving full glory to God the Father.

By attempting to manifest the perilous nature of the crisis, my goal was not simply to make this misfortune known, but to encourage all of us, bishops, priests and laity alike, to embark on an adequate response. Such a response cannot be merely negative, a rebuttal of all the erroneous views and ambiguous arguments, though such is necessary, but rather it must also be a response that is robustly positive. From the time of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the time of the Second Vatican Council and St. John Paul II the Church has continually proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ and so the good news of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, a Church he conceived through his death and resurrection and to which he gave birth to in his sending forth the Holy Spirit. This constructive proclamation is what will renew the Church and so restore the fallen world to life in Christ.

Moreover, we must defend and promote a proper knowledge of and love for the Eucharist, for here, as we saw, the four marks of the Church are most fully expressed and abundantly nourished. In the Eucharist above all the Church’s identity is most clearly enacted and made visible. For in the Eucharist we are made one with Christ and one with one another as together we profess and joyfully acclaim our one apostolic and universal faith, a faith that is imbued with the holiness of the Spirit, and so as one ecclesial community we worship and glorify God the Father – the source and end of all. Within the Eucharist, then, the Church’s four marks most beautifully shine.


1 Within his seven letters, for example, Ignatius so argued against those who denied that the Son of God existed as an actual fleshly man but only appeared (docens) or seemed to do so, that is, the Docetists, so as to anticipate the doctrinal teaching of the Council of Chalcedon over three hundred years later (451 AD). For Ignatius, Jesus is the one and the same person of Son of God who existed from all eternity as God and who came to exist truly as man in time. Because of this incarnational reality all that pertains to the divine Son’s humanity – such as birth, suffering, and death, could rightly and properly be predicated of that one divine Son.

See T.G. Weinandy, “The Apostolic Christology of Ignatius of Antioch: The Road to Chacedon,” in Jesus: Essays in Christology (Sapientia Press: Ave Maria University, 2014), pp. 59-74. This essay was first published in Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, ed. A. Gregory and C. Tuckett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 71-84.

2 All quotations from Ignatius’s letters are taken from Early Christian Writers, trans. M. Staniforth, (Penguin Books: Baltimore, 1968).

3 For Ignatius, bishops, priests and deacons form an “Apostolic circle” or “council” and so only those who possess “these three orders” can rightly be named a “church” (Ad Tral. 3). The Trallians must always be in unity “with Jesus Christ and your bishop and the Apostolic institutions” (ibid. 7). Bishops, priests and deacons are ultimately “appointed” by Jesus Christ and “confirmed and ratified, according to his will, by his Holy Spirit” (Ad Phil, greeting).

4 Ignatius is the first to employ the term “catholic.” Here it refers to the universality of the Church. Only around 200 AD did it become a title – “the Catholic Church,” which designated it as the universal Church and so distinct from localized heretical sects.

5 Not without significance Ignatius makes reference to the other churches within his letters to the individual churches, especially at the conclusion of each of his letters. This referencing of the other churches testifies to their being in communion with one another and so to their individually and communally possessing the defining ecclesial characteristics – that of being one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Cf. Ad Eph. 21; Ad Mag. 15; Ad Tral. 12-13; Ad Rom. 9-10; Ad Phi. 10-11; Ad Smyrn. 11-13; Ad Poly. 7-8.

6 All quotations are taken from Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, (Scholarly Resources Inc.: Wilmington, 1975).

7 The Constitution footnotes St. Cyprian, De Orat. Dom. 23; St. Augustine, Serm. 71, 20, 33; and St. John Damascene, Adv. Iconocl. 12. In the above paragraph I have placed in italics those words and phrases that speak of the four marks of the Church, though not designating them as such.

8 The Council does articulate an important aspect of the four marks of the Church that, while hidden in Ignatius’s theology, is never openly expressed, that is, the eschatological nature of these four ecclesial marks (cf. Ibid. 5). The Church fully becomes the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church only when Christ returns in glory. Then, his Body, the universal and apostolic Church, will be fully one with him in the Holy Spirit, thus sharing fully in his holiness. Again, as the Council later states: “While she slowly grows and matures, the Church longs for the completed kingdom and, with all her strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with her king” (ibid. 5).

9 The Constitution footnotes St. Augustine, Bap. C. Donat. V. 28, 39: “Certe manifestum est, id quod dicitur, in Ecclesia intus et foris, non in corpore cogitandum.

10 For a more concise teaching on the four marks of the Church, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, numbers 811-835.

11 John Paul quotes Lumen Gentium, 26.

12 Pope Francis consistently uses the term “doctrine” in a negative manner – as being bookish and lifeless, far removed from the pastoral concerns of daily ecclesial life. This pitting doctrine and pastoral practice against one another is a false and dangerous dichotomy. The truths of doctrine are the guides and guardians of wise pastoral practice. Without doctrine, pastoral practice has no objective authentic anchor, and so is subject to sentimentality, pop-psychology, and the prejudices of contemporary culture.

13 At times one gets the impression that Pope Francis, as with the notion of doctrine, perceives the visible Church in a negative light. For the pope, the visible Church appears to assume the character of an impersonal governmental bureaucratic institution – created to make rigid rules and harsh regulations that often, again, have little bearing on the daily pastoral life of the Church – where the real Church exists in all its human tangled complexity. This view also comprises a false dichotomy. Yes, as with any big organization, there can be ecclesial bureaucratic red tape that is far from being constructive and helpful, and even pastoral, but the visible Church is, nonetheless, the sacramental sign and effective means by which, in which, and through which Jesus, through Holy Spirit, works his salvific wonders as Lord and Savior to the glory of God the Father. For this, love of the visible Church is not simply obligatory but a cause for rejoicing.

14 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion, Communionis Notio (May 28, 1992).

15 He later addresses the issues of inter-communion with Protestant denominations, as well as the norms governing communion in relationship to the Eastern Orthodox Churches (cf. 43-46).

16 John Paul is quoting Lumen Gentium, 14.

17 John Paul is referencing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1385 and the Council of Trent, DS 1647 and 1661.

18 John Paul is quoting Canon 915.

19 This understanding that negative moral norms are no longer absolute but goals to be achieved can be applied not only to those who commit adultery, but also to those who commit any other grave sin – fornication, homosexual acts, contraception, the molestation of children, stealing, etc. – and even murder. As long as they are attempting to do their very best, they can obtain the Church’s blessing and receive Holy Communion. Obviously such a pastoral practice is morally absurd.

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About Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM., Cap. 5 Articles
Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM., Cap. (Capuchin College, Washington DC) is a Member of the International Theological Commission. The author of several books and numerous articles for both academic and popular publications, he is the current President of the Academy of Catholic Theology, and a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, the Catholic Theological Society of Great Britain, the North American Patristics Society, and the Association Internationale D’Etudes Patristiques.


  1. A stunning explanation of what makes the Catholic Church the Church that Christ founded.

    Beautifully written. And great supporting notes and citations.

    But we have a pope with an ideology and as he has proclaimed about himself…he is his own authority. He says often enough that he prays to the Holy Spirit and is led by the Third Person of the Trinity.

    But would the Holy Spirit let AL stand as is and possibly be a road to destruction as evidenced by German bishops whose interpretation is contrary to Catholic doctrine?

  2. Fr Weinandy OFM Cap with Bishop Athanasius Schneider Astana Kazakhstan are the two strongest, coherent critics of Pope Francis. Weinandy’s critique of the Pontiff is devastatingly accurate and fearful. Particularly on the injury to the 4 marks of the Church. We are no longer one both in belief and in unity. We are systematically being dismembered. Not by stupidity but by clever manipulation. Diabolic has its root in the Gk word Diaballein, to cast apart; to throw apart, or to scatter. I recall this from a lecture by Bishop Fulton J Sheen. We must be realistic regarding what it is we’re contending with. Nothing in Church history can compare. Whatever the exact nature of our dilemma Fr Weinandy is correct that anger and protest is not a solution. An honest reappraisal of our priestly ministry is a first step for those with orders. To preach the Apostolic Tradition in Season and out of Season. There is no silver bullet. The most effective spiritual response is sack cloth and ashes. For us today humility, prayer, self sacrifice. Rather than attack those who defend the New Paradigm expose its inconsistency with Christ’s revelation. Provide intelligent response with purpose of conciliation. Devotion to the Blessed Mother and much patience and loving faith.

  3. Let us all stand together and fight for our Church’s marriage to Our Lord Jesus Christ, that we are always faithful to our marriage to Him, and never give in to the adultery of this unholy moment. And let us give thanks for the courageous witness by Fr. Weinandy, and the courageous Cardinals, Bishops, priests and laity who have spoken in defense of our vows to be faithful to Jesus.

  4. Thank you, Fr. Weinandy, for speaking clearly and getting to the heart of the matter. Please continue to write and speak concerning the Faith; yours is a badly needed voice at a critical moment in the life of the Church.

  5. For Pope Francis, then, as seen in Amoris Laetitia, to re-conceive and newly express the previously clear apostolic faith and magisterial tradition in a seemingly ambiguous manner, so as to leave confusion and puzzlement within the ecclesial community, is to contradict his own duties as the successor of Peter and to transgress the trust of his fellow bishops, as well as that of priests and the entire faithful.

    And who is the author of confusion? It is not God:

    God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
    — 1 Corinthians 14:33

    So, what is the real source of confusion among God’s people? God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah as follows:

    As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I do not hear you. Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven [a pagan god]; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. Is it I whom they provoke? says the Lord. Is it not themselves, to their own confusion?
    — Jeremiah 7:16-19

    It seems that idolatry is the source of confusion among God’s people. If God seems angry about idolatry here, what he says next to Jeremiah confirms that:

    Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.
    — Jeremiah 7:20

    If the root of confusion is idolatry that calls down the wrath of God upon His people, and the current confusion in the Church has even infected the holders of its highest offices, who further the confusion instead of ameliorating it, there must be some deadly form of idolatry taking place within the House of God itself. God goes on to tell Jeremiah:

    For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the Lord; they have set their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire …
    — Jeremiah 7:30-31

    Is there a modern version of this horrible form of idolatry taking place in modern times?

    Where there is “a manifest lack of proper moral disposition,” that is, according to Canon Law, when persons “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin,” they are “not to be permitted to Eucharistic communion.

    Today we have those known by all to be flaming advocates of “legal” baby killing being given the Eucharist. The abortion rate among Catholic women is roughly the same as non-Catholic women. And why would Catholics see abortion any differently than the rest of the world if the “legal” murder of innocent children by the thousands every day is so insignificant that public officials who defend and promote it may receive the Eucharist? This is the idolatry taking place in the very House of God.

    We are to render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and unto God that which belongs to God. Caesar has usurped God’s authority over innocent human life. The state simply has no authority whatsoever to “legalize” the murder of innocent humanity. Allowing the reception of the Eucharist by such public officials — Caesar’s agents and representatives — is the official proclamation of the bishops that they have transferred their primary allegiance from Christ to Caesar. This is blatant idolatry that proclaims loudly “We have no King but Caesar!” and signals their approval of Christ being unjustly sentenced to death once again in the least of His brethren.

    God have mercy on us. Perhaps there is hope that God will withhold His wrath. As He said to Jeremiah before He even began His angry threats:

    For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers for ever.
    — Jeremiah 7:5-7

    The most oppressed aliens among us are the millions of children who arrive in this nation and are then summarily murdered. Their origin? The very hand of God Himself. The innocent children in the womb are Christ in the least of His brethren, the strangers the world refuses to make welcome.

  6. I am a Protestant and until recently I was very interested in joining the Catholic church. With all the confusion and disunity the current pope is causing I am now confused. If there was any church that I thought would never be influenced by the darkness of the world, I would have said “the Catholic church is the one” But now it looks like the current leadership of the pope and some (not all bishops) have let the darkness into the Catholic church. Is there anyone who can explain to me why I should still join the Catholic church? Thanks.

    • Heresy hasn’t been officially proclaimed as authoritative Church teaching. If Bergoglio attempts to do that, it will only proved that there really were violations of canon law in his election that render him an antipope, as has been claimed.

      If he is a genuine successor of St. Peter, he will not and cannot officially proclaim heresy. The Church is the Body of Christ; it is not a corpse but a living body animated by a spirit: The Holy Spirit. It the Holy Spirit who speaks in the official teaching of the Church, so its official teaching can never be erroneous.

      Satan has attacked the Church from within beginning with Judas Isariot, and from without beginning with the persecution of the infant Church. He continues to attack it from within and without. The Church has looked like it was on the verge of collapse more often than not throughout the centuries.

      The Jews attempted to destroy the infant Church. Their temple was destroyed in 70 AD they were dispersed.

      The mighty Roman Empire decided to eradicate the Church from the face of the Earth. Rome collapsed and when the dust settled there was the Church continuing its triumphant march down through the centuries.

      The Holy Spirit animating it is why the Church is an anvil that has worn out many hammers. It will continue to do so. It will survive “the current leadership of the pope and some (not all bishops).” In the grand scheme of things they are like angry tomatoes flinging themselves against a brick wall. They will only destroy themselves.

      • Harry – IF Pope Francis ever teaches heresy, it might mean that he would cease to be Pope the moment he does so, (at least according to come canon lawyers, that is what might happen) BUT he still was validly elected Pope, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with his election, no matter how many conspiracy theories people might urge on us.

    • Dear Truth Seeker, There is only one reason for joining the Catholic Church and that is Our Lord. The Church is His body and through the Church we receive the fullness of His grace, especially in the Eucharist. If you are looking for a Church that would never be influenced by the power of darkness, you will never find one. Remember that “the devil entered into” Judas, one of the Twelve. From the very beginning, the powers of darkness have sought to destroy the Church, but Our Lord said He would found His Church on the rock of St.Peter “and the gates of hell will not hold out against it.” Please continue your search under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and I will pray for you. I look forward to the time when we can receive Him in Communion together! God bless you.

    • This is a very important question. The Catholic Church has a public body of teaching that cannot be changed by a vote. Pope Francis may wish that he could alter Church teaching on divorce, but he can’t really because the teaching is public, consistent, and, in the self-understanding of the Church, unchangeable. The Church stands not because the Pope enforces a consistent teaching and tradition but because, ultimately, the Pope is appointed guardian of that teaching and tradition. He knows that he cannot simply overrule it as one might in a Protestant synod. And so the faith of the Church will stand, despite the confusion. The Church has suffered much worse in its history, but has always pulled through.

  7. This is one of the best explanations that I have seen as to why Pope Francis, intentionally or not, may end up causing grave problems in the church. IF each Bishops conference can go its own way on doctrine, we are lost. We will shatter into a million squabbling Protestant denominations. Up until now, Pope Francis has been goofy, a sideshow, wrong headed and insulting. Now he is starting to attack the fundamentals of the Catholic faith, by letting each Bishops conference go their own way, by letting priests decide when to follow church teaching and when not to. As Weinandy points out, now we are starting to talk about Pope Francis attacking the creed itself – “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church”. Up to this point, Francis was merely highly diverting, kind of silly, and caused confusion. Now he slowly is heading into real doctrinal danger, and Weinandy points this out. As a counterpoint to Weinandy, Cardinal Cupich’s recent address presents the Pope’s case. Essentially, that case is “Things have changed, the church needs to conform itself to the world” That is essentially what “lived experience” really means. That is what “Concrete circumstances” really means. It means the church must conform itself to the world, as the Episcopalians have done. So now we enter a one or two year period where the Pope becomes not merely goofy, but perhaps even dangerous. It’s going to be interesting.

  8. The issue is NOT the Pope explicitly and directly teaching heresy. The issue is the 5-step deception: (1) the deliberately ambiguous statement by Pope F in AL (his opening against the 2000 year teaching of the sacraments of Holy Matrimony and Holy Communion (most recently expounded by JP2 in Familiaris Consortio); (2) the explicit rejection of the 2000 year teaching by a group of bishops in Argentina (Pope F’s country) in their orchestrated letter to Francis showing their interpretation of what AL means; (3) the explicit response to the heretical Bishops of Argentina by Pope F saying that their explanation of AL is the correct meaning of AL; (4) the Pope’s action of ordering that his private letter in response to the heretical Bishops of Argentina, in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis in October 2016; and (5) unfaithful bishops and Cardinals like Cupich et al echoing Pope F that now that steps1-4 are complete, the attack on Holy Matrimony and Holy Communion are, prr Francis’ own words, now part of the Church’s “authentic magisterium.”

    A process of heresy, to shield an all-too-cowardly Pope snd his minions who prosper in “his pontificate.”

  9. Dear Truth Seeker,
    God Love you, I and many others pray for you. We are living through a big test – – the evil one hates us – – but together we are strong. Please add you strength and make us stronger – – God wants you – – we need you!

  10. The Church is built up of living stones, and it seems to me that the Church will be as one, as holy, as Catholic and as apostolic as the members who are its stones have let themselves be unified, sanctified and made universally- and apostolically-minded by the Holy Spirit. If we the members do not let ourselves be transformed by His grace, the Church will endure but it will be impoverished.

  11. On a related note…

    The Gospel for the 2nd Sunday of Lent recounting the Transfiguration provides a prime opportunity to note of the disbeliefs of the “favorite theologian” of Pope Francis – Cardinal Kasper (“this is theology on its knees”).
    Bishops like Cdl. Cupich are having Kasper’s theology (Jesus the Christ, first published 1974) used in our seminaries. I am sure Kasper’s book below is also in use in “Catholic” colleges throughout the world since 1974. He re-issued it in 2011.
    Here is Cardinal Kasper’s testimony about the Transfiguration:
    “A number of miracle stories turn out in the light of form criticism to be projections of the experiences of Easter back into the earthly life of Jesus, or anticipatory representations of the exalted Christ. Among these epiphany stories we should probably include the stilling of the storm, the transfiguration, Jesus’ walking on the lake, the feeding of the four (or five) thousand and the miraculous draught of fishes. …
    “The result of all this is that we must describe many of the gospel miracle stories as legendary…. ” (Jesus the Christ, Kasper, 1974, p. 90-91)
    Men and women in Germany don’t bother going to Mass, because they have been listening to Kasper for 50 years, and they “get the message” that most German Bishops, like Kasper, don’t preach the Catholic faith.
    That’s the “new Church of 2013” – denying the Evangelists to our children on Monday, and then theater for the parents about the “new evangelization” on Tuesday.

  12. To Anne Marie. You bring up several great points, one about the Eucharist (which has I really want to receive) and the point about never finding a church that is not influenced by darkness. That really is what I needed to hear. Yes it is sad that there is no perfect or near perfect church, but that I should stop looking for a perfect church here on earth is somewhat freeing. Thank you very much. The other hurdle is to convince my wife the Catholic church is the one true church. Pray for us. Thanks.

    • Dear Truth Seeker, I will pray to Our Lady for your wife. Mary had to walk the pilgrim path of faith also so she will understand. God bless you both!

    • Praying for you, Truth Seeker! In these dark days for the Church, I often think of the Gospel passage about the storm on the lake, when Jesus was asleep. We need to have the faith that even if he seems asleep now, he is not, and in due time will lead his Church to a peaceful harbor.

  13. To Mike in Cave Creek. I really appreciate your comments. If I understand you correctly, I never thought of it from your perspective, i.e. that I could add a little “strength” to the Catholic church. If I can convince my wife to join I would love to tell Catholics how much beauty and awesomeness the grace of God is evident in the Catholic church. There is so much evidence in the Catholic church regarding the tangible connection between heaven and earth, because of the Eucharist, Sacrifice of the Mass, communion of Saints, etc…

  14. The outcast, the true and faithful Fr Weinandy vs. the gay supporting / tweeter Cdn.Tobin.
    Yes, dear pewsitters, this is the putrid swamp the Francis Vatican has created. The nightmare trend is accelerating.
    The synod on youth is set to hit you and your children like a baseball bat.

  15. This is a great article! Thank you, Fr Weinandy, I’m glad you are standing strong despite the trials you have been through. Putting the present crisis in this context of the four marks of the Church is very important and illuminating.

  16. Father Weinandy’s entire address is flawless. It brought back many memories of the best of my college theology courses from the immediate post-conciliar period. That recall prompted me to a further reflection.
    Nothing that Father presents in his address is new or groundbreaking. It is foundational Roman Catholic theology. That any ordained or vowed Roman Catholic would cast this teaching aside is ludicrous. One cannot be a professed Catholic and relegate this teaching to the circular file.
    Why is Father Weinandy compelled speak these foundational truths?
    Why is it deemed a “challenge” to the current and now fashionable “paradigm” to speak these foundational truths?
    Why aren’t the bishops speaking these foundational truths?
    Why has USCCB marginalized this man?
    Why aren’t three generations of baptized Roman Catholic aware of these foundational truths?
    Why is the POPE not hammering these foundational truths home instead of undermining them?
    Can you be a Roman Catholic and not hold these foundational truths to be true as understood through two millennia?
    God reward Father Weinandy. He is an authentic priest, theologian and teacher.
    And a brave man. A rare critter in clerical circles these days.

  17. Fr. Weinandy is a modern day Gandalf who must help Frodo get the ring into Mordor. There are far too few such brave Catholic priests or bishops in the world who are willing to speak eloquently, and rightly, to defend Truth in this present trial of chaos within our Church. The risks of course are all too apparent, and the temptation to silence is understandable, but most regrettable.

    Amoris Laetitia is systematically dismantling the foundational pillars of Church teaching, as the lukewarm listen eagerly to the tickling ear speeches of the Fr. Martins, the Cupichs, the Spadaros and the Kaspers, attacking the very cornerstones which were laid two thousand years ago by our Lord Himself, with the mortar of His blood, sweat and tears. The men who are are taking the hammer to these foundations will soon enough reach an impassible barrier, when in their fanatic zeal of rage against doctrine, their arms will suddenly lose power to swing anymore. But before then, where is the Fellowship which will rise up and help such noble and real Catholic souls as Fr. Weinandy within our Church? Men who claim to be Catholic, particularly faithful priests, stand up like the great saints of old, like St. John the Baptist, St. Nicholas, St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, St. Thomas More, St. Pius X, and so many others, and become the men God has called you to be now in this moment, in this age, before your hour is passed, and all you have is regret.

    “‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'”

  18. A copy of this essay by Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy is going to be put in with my most important papers (18 pages) for my heirs to find. Though in the mean time it’s a must to share this with the grown kids, and anyone I can.

  19. Does Father Weinandy consider himself a greater spiritual authority than the elected Pope? Does he not believe that the Holy Spirit operates within the Sistine Chapel at every Papal election? Surely it is possible that the future of the Church lies in a moderate, prayerful openness to change? We know all too well what damage intransigent clericalism has done by hiding crimes. We need to be in an era of reform, not of defensive obstinacy.

    • You have presented a perspective about papal conclaves that Pope Bendict XVI himself critqued as naive. The Holy Spirit has permitted bad popes in the past while retaining control over the long arch of history. We have had spiritual popes and we have had immoral popes. On more than one occasion, the Holy Spirit even sent prophets to rebuke sinful popes and weak popes (e.g., St. Catherine of Siena). Father Weinandy may yet prove to be a prophet who has warned one on the path to heresy. Regretfully, we now a have a pope who publicly opposes clericalism and preaches dialog while acting quite inconsistently–hopefully, this only reflects as a blind spot rather than a Machiavellian streak. At a minimum, Pope Francis is an unwise pope. And he has yet to demonstrate humility toward those who ask hard but legitimate questions that needed to be raised; in fact, he has at times responded with “defensive obstinancy”.

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