Thursday, December 13, 2007
What do the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have to do with the Church? Part 2
(Continued from Part 1)
When I was a child, I would use the same four words week after week to express my interest in something that was, simply put, a phenomenon: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There was nothing else like it in the world. No other group of superheroes was so stereotypically Teenage, conveniently Mutant, awesomely Ninja and pleasantly Turtles. The only thing that even came close was the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, but they were hardly Mutant and definitely not Turtles.
These days, I use another four words week after week to express my faith in another phenomenon: the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. And much like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there is nothing like it in the world. There is no other church in all of Christendom that is as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic as the Roman Catholic Church. In his talk entitled "Seven Reasons to Be Catholic", Peter Kreeft notes that the Holy Spirit inspired the Nicene Creed in the 4th Century in anticipation of a split or series of splits within Christianity. Indeed, the First Council of Nicea promulgated the Nicene Creed to clarify the Apostle's Creed and to immediately address the heresy of Arianism, which claimed that Jesus was created, not begotten, and therefore was not of the same essence (ousia) as God the Father. Kreeft explains that, in the event that Christians would be confused as to which church is the true Church, the Holy Spirit provides four marks or signs of the Church that Jesus Christ established: it is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
The unity of the Catholic Church comes from its faithfulness to the One deposit of faith that was received from the lips of Christ Himself, the Word Made Flesh. The fact that the Church has always taught one doctrine throughout its entire history without succumbing to the pressures of social trends and worldly desires is proof of its oneness. This is evident in the Church's teaching on the True Presence of Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharist, which was clearly believed and upheld by the earliest Church fathers. This oneness is also evident in the Church's teachings against divorce and priestesses, because it does not claim the authority to contradict the precedent that Jesus Christ set by forbidding divorce and by choosing twelve men to be His apostles. Furthermore, this unity is physically visible in the one Pope, the Vicar of Christ and the Supreme Pontiff of Christ's flock on earth.
A somewhat obvious mark of the Church is that it is Holy. Let there be no confusion, though: holiness does not mean perfection. The Catholic Church, like any other faith, has its share of beloved saints and notorious sinners. To sanctify something is not to perfect but to set it apart. God did just that with the nation of Israel, and see how much the Jews have been persecuted because of it. They were independent from the rest of the world, from the rest of the society. Not only that, but the characteristics of the Jews as a people far surpassed the cultural or subcultural context. More so than their familial traditions or traditional clothing, the Jews were different because they obeyed the commands that God bestowed upon them. This is something that the man-made world does not understand. Is it any wonder why the world, the media, the politicians hate the Catholic Church so much? In John 15:19, Jesus says, "If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you". And so the Catholic Church is holy because Jesus has set it apart from the rest of the world. "We are the new Jews," remarks Kreeft. "An iron ball in the pit of the world's stomach. We cannot be digested."
At a glance, the word Catholic may also seem to be self-explanatory. This may simultaneously refer to the universality of the Church as well as its presence in all parts of the world. Then again, one may consider that the Eastern Orthodox church also considers itself Catholic, though not in communion with Rome. Similarly, many Protestants would consider themselves part of the catholic (note the lowercase "c"), or universal and invisible, church. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386) gives a more thorough definition of the word in one of his catechetical lectures: "[The Church] is called Catholic, then, because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts." Then the mark of Catholic is that of geographical omnipresence, but also the full splendor of truth, which ties into the mark of the One Church.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the Church is that it is Apostolic. This notion is clearly seen in St. Paul's second letter to Timothy when he says, "[W]hat you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also". He is appointing St. Timothy to appoint and teach the faith to others, who will in turn appoint and teach others. That's three generations of apostolic succession! Indeed, the easiest way to find the true Church, at least for the early Christian, is to find the Church which can be traced back to the Apostles through the unbroken line of apostolic succession. The faith which they proclaim has been received from their predecessors, who in turn received it from the Apostles, who in turn received it from Christ.
So now that I've lulled you into a state of boredom, you may be wondering, "What does all this Catholic stuff have to do with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?" Let's refresh: The Roman Catholic Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. It is One because it is unified in the one deposit of faith under one pope. It is Holy because it is set apart from the world and unassimilated. It is Catholic because it is universal, worldwide and uniform. Finally, it is Apostolic because it teaches the faith that has been passed down by the successors of the Apostles who received everything they know from Jesus Christ our Lord. Basically, if you remember nothing else from this essay, at least remember that you can always sing the Four Marks of the Church to the tune of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song: "One Holy Catholic Apostolic, One Holy Catholic Apostolic, One Holy Catholic Apostolic! Four Marks of the True Church! Papal Power!"