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The Church understands herself to be the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Christ to continue His salvific mission on earth that His Incarnation inaugurated some 2000 plus years ago. Though a great many things can be said about these four marks, I want to take a quick look at the first mark, the Church’s “oneness.”
When we proclaim that the Church is One, part of what we are saying is that Christ did not set up many churches but one singular Church. Why might He have limited Himself to merely one Church? The answer, in my estimation, is quite beautiful—romantic, even. To understand the answer we first have to understand a bit more as to why the Church exists in the first place.
The Church exists in order to bring all men together in Christ (CCC 760). Put another way, the Church is the instrument of salvation for the world (CCC 846). In other words, the Church is a great gift from God given freely to us to aid us on our way to total happiness. This is no small thing, and so only the very best will do.
Fortunately, when God bequeathed us this means of salvation, He left nothing to be desired (see CCC 830). He gave us the best that could possibly be given. If something is going to be the best that means, by default, that it is the only one of its kind. Having two “bests” of something is an impossibility. If option A admits of an option B, it must be because option B has something that option A does not have (otherwise there would be nothing to distinguish the two). This then means that option A is lacking something that option B has. Likewise option B is lacking in something that option A has. Therefore there can be only one best.
Knowing what a stiff-necked and stubborn people we can be, a people easily given to distraction, God makes it simple for us in providing a single goal to achieve, a single path to walk. In the Catechetical School we like to say He gives us a single “ladder of ascent” to climb. In doing so, He removes the guess work and allows us to give ourselves totally over to climbing this ladder. We can move with confidence that we are doing God’s will and therefore we can give our hearts completely over to the process.
This leads us to a second reason why the Church is one. The church is known as the Bride of Christ (see CCC 796). Jesus, being ever the romantic, can only have one bride. He is not a polygamist who maintains several wives and spreads His attention over various households, being attentive to one for a season while neglecting the others. Instead, Jesus has given Himself entirely over to His one “true love” so to speak. Jesus loves this Bride so much that He bore the weight of the sin of the world in His flesh in order to make her His spotless Bride (CCC 1426). It would be absolutely unthinkable to imagine Jesus having a paramour tucked away someplace to ease His discomfort in the event that His lawful wife mistreats Him.
So the next time you are confronted with the charge that we are incorrigibly arrogant in proclaiming that the Church is “one,” simply smile inwardly and proceed to revel in the knowledge of what a great gift this oneness means for us and for the world.