Catholics have sometimes been heard to speak of the four marks of the church. In fact, we state our belief in them every time we say the Nicene Creed at mass, when we state that we believe in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”
Catholics believe that the true church can only be identified as one that bears all four qualities.
If part 2 (Holy) was the hardest, part 3 (Catholic) may be the easiest.
“Catholic” means universal. That the true church would be a universal or catholic church is undeniable.
Jesus told us to make disciples of all men. He instructed us to preach the gospel to the entire world.
Jesus made a promise that was certain to be misunderstood at its time: Matthew 10:23 – “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.”
If you take this promise at face value, it appears that Jesus broke His promise.
However, in this passage, Israel refers to the new Israel, which is the Church. Since Jesus still has not returned, this reinforces the idea that the church’s message must still be spread.
The oldest documented use of the word Catholic to describe the church occurs circa 110 A.D. The context in which it is used (by Saint Ignatius) implies that it was a well known, established term. By 110 A.D. all the books that would become the Bible, had not yet been written.
Yet, the church was already being called a Catholic church.
It only makes sense. The Church being called Catholic is a natural consequence of its oneness and its holiness.
If the church is one, that is united, its members would be unified in fulfilling the great commission (to preach the gospel to everyone, everywhere).
If the church is holy, that is a reflection of God; it would desire the love of God for all of God’s people as does the Catholic Church.
So, just as a church, that is not unified, cannot be God’s church, just as a church, that is not holy, cannot be God’s church and a church that is not universal is not fulfilling the great commission cannot be God’s church – that is a sure fire sign that the Spirit is not at work in her and she cannot be the true church of God.