The Catholic Church is indestructible; i.e., it will remain till the end of the world, for Christ said: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. xvi. 18) .
Hence there will always be Popes, bishops, and faithful, and God’s revealed truths will ever be found in the Catholic Church. The archangel Gabriel had announced to Mary: “Of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke i. 33). “The Church,” says St. Ambrose, “is like the moon; it may wane, but never be destroyed; it may be darkened, but it can never disappear.” “The bark of the Church,” says St. Anselm, “may be swept by the waves, but it can never sink because Christ is there.”
1. Of all the persecutors of the Church none have succeeded against it, and some have come to a fearful end.
Judas end is the type of those of his imitators. Herod, the murderer of the infants of Bethlehem, died in unspeakable tortures; so, too, Herod the murderer of St. James was devoured by worms. Pilate was banished by the emperor to Vienne, in France, and there he took his own life. During the siege of Jerusalem 1,000,000 Jews died of hunger or sickness, or in battle, the city itself was reduced to ashes and some hundred thousand Jews carried off into captivity. The tyrant Nero was deposed, and in his flight from Rome was stabbed by a slave. Diocletian came to a shameful end. Before his death his family were sent into exile, his statues were destroyed, and his body attacked with a loathsome disease. Julian the Apostate was struck down on the field of battle by a lance; his last words were: “Galilean, Thou hast conquered.” The case of Napoleon is instructive. He kept Pius VII. a prisoner for five years, he himself was a prisoner for seven years; in the castle at Fontainebleau he forced the Pope to give up the States of the Church, promising a yearly income of 2,000,000 francs; in the same place he was himself forced to sign his abdication, and received a promise of a yearly income of the same amount. Four days after giving the order to unite the States of the Church with France he lost the battles of Aspern and Erlingen. He answered the excommunication launched against him, saying that the words of an old man would not make the arms drop from the hands of his soldiers. This actually happened in his Russian campaign from the intense cold; and on the same day on which Napoleon died at St. Helena, Pius VII. was celebrating his own feast day at Rome. No wonder the French have a saying: “Whoever eats of the Pope dies.” The same fate is shared by the founders of heresies, and the enemies of religion. Arius burst asunder during a triumphal procession; Voltaire died in despair. These facts and many more of the same kind illustrate the words of Holy Writ: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. x. 31).
2. When the Church is in the greatest need, Christ ever comes to its help, either by miracles or by raising up saintly men.
The appearance of the cross in the heavens, for instance, seen by Constantine and his army, brought the Christian persecution to an end. “The Church,” says St. Jerome, “is like Peter’s bark. When the storm is at its height the Lord wakes from His sleep and commands peace.”
3. “It is peculiar to the Church, says St. Hilary,” to nourish most when persecuted.
“Persecutions,” says St. Augustine, “serve to bring forth saints.” To the Church as well as to Eve were the words spoken: “In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children” (Gen. iii. 16). The members of the Church increase under persecution. The Church is a field, fruitful only when torn up by the plough, or it is a vine, stronger and richer for being pruned. “As fire is spread by the wind, so is the Church increased by persecution,” says St. Rupert. Persecution purifies the Church; even if millions fall away, it is not a loss but a cleansing. The time of persecution is usually a period of miracles, attesting the divine origin of the Church, as in the Babylonish captivity they attested the truth of the religion of the Jews. How often have Christians come unhurt out of boiling liquid, like St. Cecilia, or remained unharmed in the midst of the flames, like St. Polycarp, or been thrown to the beasts and received their homage like St. Venantius? Facts like these force the enemies of the Church to exclaim: “Mighty indeed is the God of the Christians.” The Church comes triumphant out of every persecution. Easter always follows Good Friday. But a few years ago the bishops in Germany were cast into prison, the religious Orders driven out, the administration of the sacraments in part forbidden; at the present day the number of Catholic members in the Reichstag is over a hundred, the Catholic journals have increased to four or five hundred, yearly congresses take place, and all kinds of unions for Catholic objects are formed, while the Catholics themselves are stauncher and more self-sacrificing. “The more battles the Church has to fight, the more her powers are developed; and the more she is oppressed the higher she rises,” are the words of Pius VII. Such a privilege belongs to no institution save the Church, and by that she may be recognized as the offspring of God, the Bride of Christ.