OUR adversaries, clearly perceiving that by this touchstone their doctrine would be recognised as of base gold, try by all means to turn us from that invincible proof which we find in the marks of the true Church. And therefore they would maintain that the Church is invisible and unperceivable. I consider that this is the extreme of absurdity, and that immediately beyond this abide frenzy and madness. I speak of the militant Church of which the Scripture has left us testimony, not of that which men put forward. Now, in all the Scripture it will never be found that the Church is taken for an invisible assembly. Here are our reasons.
(1.) Our Lord and Master sends us to the Church in our difficulties and variances (Matt. xviii. 16, 17). S. Paul teaches how we ought to behave in it (I Tim. iii. 15); he called together the ancients of the Church militant (Acts xx. 17); he shows them that they are placed by the Holy Ghost(ibid. 28); he is sent by the Church, with S. Barnabas (Ibid. xiii., 1, 3). He is received by the Church (ibid. xv. 4); he confirmed the Churches (ibid. 41); he ordained for them priest sin every Church (ibid. xiv. 22); he assembled the Church (ibid. 26); he saluted the Church at Caesarea (ibid. xviii. 22); he persecuted the Church (Gal. i. 13). How can all this be understood of an invisible Church? Where should one seek it to lay complaints before it, to converse in it, to rule it? When it sent S. Paul, and received him, when he confirmed it, ordained priests in it, assembled it, saluted it, presecuted it- was this n figure or in faith only, and in spirit? I am sure that everybody must see that these were visible and perceptible acts on both sides. And when he wrote to it, did he address himself to some invisible chimera?
(2.) What will be said about the Prophets, who represent the Church to us as not only visible, but quite distinct, illustrious, manifest, magnificent? They depict it as a queen in golden borders clothed round about with varieties (Ps. xliv. 14, 15); as a mountain (Isa. ii. 2); as a sun (Ps. lxxxviii.); as a full moon; as the rainbow, a faithful and certain witnessof the favour of God towards men, who are all of the posterity of Noe[Noah]: such is the signification of this Psalm in our version: Et thronus ejus sicut sol in conspectu meo, et sicut luna perfecta in aeternum et testis in coelo fidelis.
(3.) The Scripture everywhere testifies that she can be seen and known, yea, that she is known. Solomon, in the Canticle of Canticles (vi.), speaking of the Church, does he not say that <i And thus introducing the daughters, full of admiration he makes them say: Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array? Is this not to declare her visible? And when he makes them call upon her thus: Return, return, O Sulamitess; return, return, that we may behold thee; and makes her answer: What shalt thou see in the Sulamitess but the companies of camps? – is not this again to declare her visible? If one regard those admirable Canticles and pastoral representations of the loves of the celestial Bridegroom with the Church, one will see that she is throughout most visible and prominent. Isaias speaks of her thus (xxxv. 8): This shall be unto you a straight way, so that fools shall not err therein; – must she not be displayed and easy to see, since even the simplest shall be able to guide themselves by her without fail? </i
(4.) The pastors and doctors of the Church are visible, therefore the Church is visible. For, I ask you, are not the pastors of the Church a part of the Church, and must not pastor and sheep know each other, must not the sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and follow him, must not the good shepherd go seek his sheep that is lost, and recognise his enclosure and fold? This would indeed be a fine sort of shepherd, who could not know or see his flock. I know not whether I am to prove that the pastors of the Church are visible; things as evident are denied. S. Peter was a pastor, I suppose, since Our Lord said to him >I>Feed My sheep; so were the Apostles, and they were seen. I suppose that those to whom S. Paul said Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath placed you, to rule the Church of God; I suppose, may I, that they saw him; and when like good children they fell upon the neck of this good shepherd, hiding his face with their tears, I presume that he touched, and felt, and saw them; and what makes me still more sure of it is that they were chiefly grieved at his departure for the word which he hd said that they would see his face no more. And then, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Luther, Calvin, Beza and Musculus are visible; and as to the two last many of you have seen them, and yet they are called pastors by their disciples. The pastors then are seen, and consequently the sheep also.
(5.) Is it the property of the Church to carry on the true preaching of the Word of God, the true administration of the Sacraments, – and is not all this visible? How then would you have their subject invisible?
(6.) Do we not know that the twelve patriarchs, the children of the good Jacob, were the living spring of the Church of Israel? And when their father had assembled them to bless them, they were seen and saw one another. Why do I delay on this? All sacred history testifies that the ancient synagogue was visible, and why not the Catholic Church?
(7.) As the patriarchs, fathers of the synagogue of Israel, of whom was Christ according to the flesh (Rom. ix. 5), formed the visible Church, so the Apostles with their disciples, children of the synagogue according to the flesh and spirit, gave beginning to the Catholic Church visibly, as the Psalmist says (xliv. 17): Instead of thy father, sons are born to thee; thou shalt make them princes over all the earth.
For twelve patriarchs are born to these twelve Apostles , says Arnobius (Arnobii (Junioris)Comm. in Ps. xliv.). Those Apostles being gathered together in Jerusalem with the little company of the disciples and the most glorious Mother of the Saviour formed the true Church, – and of what kind? Visible without doubt, yea so visible that the Holy Spirit came to water those holy plants and seed-plots of Christianity.
(8.) How did the ancient Jews begin their course as the people of God? By circumcision, a visible sign; – and we by baptism, a visible sign. By whom were those of old governed? By the priests of the race of Aaron, visible men; we by the bishops, visible men. By whom were the ancients taught? By the prophets and doctors, visibly; – we by our pastors and preachers, visibly. What religious and sacred food had the ancients to eat? The paschal lamb, the manna, it is all visible; – we have the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, a visible sign though of an invisible thing. By whom was the synagogue persecuted? By the Egyptians, Babylonians, Madianites, Philistines, all visible nations: – the Church by the Pagans, Turks, Moors, Saracens, heretics:- all is visible. Goodness of God! – and we are still to ask whether the Church is visible! But what is the Church? An assembly of men who have flesh and bones; – and are we to say that it is but a spirit or phantom, which seems to be visible and is only so by illusion? No, no; Why are you troubles, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? See her hands; behold her ministers, officers and governors: see her feet; look at her preachers how they carry her east and west, north and south. All are flesh and bones. Feel her; come as humble children to throw yourselves into the bosom of this sweet mother. Consider her throughout her whole body, entirely beautiful as she is, and you will see that she is visible; for a spiritual and invisible thing hath not flesh and bones, as you See her to have (Luke ult.).