The Nicene Creed fittingly noted four marks of the True Church: one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic. These marks identify four essential qualities and characteristics of the Church that distinguish the True Church from any false claimants. Now my surname may be “Pope,” but I surely cannot add authoritatively to this venerable list. Nevertheless, permit me a couple of “prayerful additions” to the four marks of the Church. These cannot join the official list but I humbly submit these “marks” for your consideration to serve in a similar way in distinguishing the True Church from false claimants and giving insight into the Church’s truest identity.
The 5th Mark of the Church: She is Hated by the World. Jesus consistently taught us to expect the hatred of the world if we are true disciples.
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also (John 15:18-20).
All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub,how much more the members of his household! (Matt 10:22-24)
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26).
One of the more painful aspects of Church life, yet one of those of which I am the most “proud,” is that we are hated very specially by the world. While it is true that some of the Evangelicals are ridiculed, few can deny that there is a very special and intense hatred for the Catholic Church, and it is widely on display. It’s never OK (nor should it be) to scorn Jews or Muslims, or to mock or attack their faith traditions. Most of the other Christian denominations (with the exception of the Evangelicals) escape the bulk of the hatred. But the Catholic Church—ah, the Catholic Church—on her it seems to be open season. We are scorned and portrayed unsympathetically in movies. Our history is misrepresented; our sins (and we do have them) are exaggerated; our teachings are called bigoted, backward, unrealistic, and out-of-date. And no matter how ugly, bigoted, and inaccurate the world’s hatred is, very few express any outrage at how we are treated and misrepresented. Try any of this on Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc. and the outrage and claims of bigotry are echoed by the media (as they should be). Meanwhile, Dan Brown, et al. get to go on and on about “evil” priests and bishops; a crucifix can be submerged in urine or the Blessed Mother smeared with dung and this is praised as “art” and funded by government grants.
Now I am not complaining (though these things are certainly wrong). I am actually quite hopeful that this means we are doing something right. We are a sign of contradiction to the world and we are hated for it. We speak the truth to a world gone mad; we hold on to that “old time religion.” That we are hated puts us in good company with Jesus and the prophets and martyrs who stood with Him. If we are really doing what we should, the Church ought to experience significant hatred from the world. Being hated by the world is an essential mark of the Church, if you ask me. We do not look to be hated, nor do we seek out conflict. But in preaching Christ crucified, in preaching the whole counsel of God and not some watered-down version of it, we surely do find that hatred and conflict come to us. Some people and some denominations try to fit in with the world. They accept its ways and compromise the clear teaching of Christ. But the True Church speaks the whole truth of God in love and does not cave in to the world’s demands. The true Church, by Christ’s promise, is hated by the world and by those allied with and wedded to it. But there’s no need to fear … the sixth “mark” is here!
The Sixth Mark of the Church: She is Perduring. To perdure means to permanently endure. Here, too, Christ firmly established this principle and promise to the true Church:
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18).
There are no governments or nations that have lasted 2000 years. Very little else in this world can claim such antiquity and even if it tries, can it claim to have remained essentially unchanged in its dogma or teaching? The Catholic Church is one, even after 2000 years. We have an unbroken line of popes going back to Peter and an unbroken line of succession for all the bishops back to the Apostles through the laying on of hands. Not bad. Now consider that this is a miracle! If the Church were dependent upon human beings in order to exist and stay unified, how long do think she would have lasted? Probably about twenty minutes, tops! Our history is not without some pretty questionable moments in terms of the human elements. That the gates of Hell would never prevail against the Church certainly suggests that they would try again and again. But here we are, a miracle, still standing after all these years. Christ is true to his promise to remain with us all days unto the consummation of the world. We, the human elements of the Church, may not live Christ’s teachings perfectly, but the Church has never failed to teach what Christ taught even (as now) when the world hated us for it. At times we are tepid and struggle to find our voice, but Christ still speaks and ministers even in our weakness. Yes, the Catholic Church is a miracle, the Work of Jesus Christ. And thus the sixth mark of the Church is that she perdures. By God’s grace we exhibit this sixth mark. Nations have come and gone, empires risen and fallen, eras opened and closed, but through it all we have perdured.
So there it is. I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic, (and, if you don’t mind my adding) hated, and perduring Church.
Here’s a very interesting hip-hop song by the rapper Akalyte on these two additional “marks” of the Church.