Short Catechism of Church History - J. Oechtering




Beginning of the Church


The Apostolic Age


16. Q. How did the Church begin her divine mission to the world?

R. On Pentecost day, after the miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost St. Peter and the other Apostles began to preach the gospel in Jerusalem and converted 3000 Jews. The number of believers grew daily, and the Church spread steadily over Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and into the surrounding countries.

At Antioch, the capital of Syria, the faithful were first called Christians.

17. Q. Did the Apostles confine their labors to the Jews?

R. No; they taught the Gentiles also; for

1) Christ had commanded them to go into the whole world and teach all nations; and the Holy Ghost bestowed upon them the gift of preaching in divers tongues.

2) St. Peter was instructed by a heavenly vision to baptize the Gentile captain Cornelius.

3) The council of the Apostles, held at Jerusalem about the year 51, decreed that converted Gentiles should be dispensed from observing the mosaic rites.

Thus the Church showed from her very beginning the Mark of Catholicity, so that St. Paul could truly say: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all in all." (Col. 3.)

18. Q. Describe briefly the career of the Apostles.

R. St. Peter labored in Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. As head of the Church, he presided over the election of Matthias to the apostleship left vacant by Judas, and over the first council held at Jerusalem. He established his see at Antioch; but removed it about the year 42 to Rome, the capital of the world, which became the seat of the papacy and the center of Christendom. There he died the death of a martyr, being nailed to the cross, as he had humbly requested, head downward. (June 29, 67 A.D.)

St. Paul, formerly called Saul, and a persecutor of the Church, was converted near Damascus by the voice of Jesus speaking to him from heaven. Having become a zealous apostle, he made four great voyages and brought the gospel to Cyprus, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and Spain. After a life of labor and trials, he obtained the crown of martyrdom, dying by the sword at Rome on the same day on which St. Peter was crucified.

St. John, the beloved friend of our Lord, took under his care the Blessed Virgin, entrusted to him under the cross. He became bishop of Ephesus and directed the churches of Asia Minor, until his holy death about the year 100. A burning love for God and man filled his great, innocent soul, and he constantly repeated the sublime admonition: "My little children, love one another."

St. James, the brother of St. John, labored in Judaea, and as tradition states, also in Spain. He was beheaded under King Herod Agrippa (43 A.D.).

St. James, the Less, became bishop of Jerusalem and was called the Just on account of his holiness. For professing that "Christ sitteth at the right hand of God," he was cast from the wall of the temple and slain with a fuller's club in the year 63.

St. Andrew preached in Southern Russia and on the coast of the Black Sea. He was crucified in Patras in Greece. When he beheld the cross, he greeted it with the beautiful words: "O dearest cross, honored by the body of my Master, long desired by me, take me hence from men and give me to my Lord!"

St. Philip died at Hierapolis in Phrygia, Asia Minor.

St. Bartholomew went to Armenia, where he received the crown of martyrdom, being flayed alive.

St. Thomas is said to have gone to India; St. Jude Thaddeus to Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia; St. Simon to Egypt, Northern Africa, and Babylon. St. Matthias is said to have come into the countries south of the Caucasus, and St. Matthew to the countries south of the Caspian Sea.

19. Q. How was the preaching of the Apostles confirmed?

R. The preaching of the Apostles was confirmed by numerous miracles, by the sublime holiness of their lives, their heroic sacrifice of all earthly things, and especially by the shedding of their blood in testimony of the truth.

20. Q. What was the success of the Apostles among the Jews?

R. Although many were converted, the majority and the leaders of the nation not only remained obstinate, but even persecuted the Christians. Therefore they were rejected by God and delivered into the hands of their enemies. In the year 70, Jerusalem was destroyed by a Roman army under Titus. A million of Jews perished in the war, forty thousand were crucified, many were sold as slaves, and the rest were scattered throughout the world.

With the destruction of Jehovah's temple, the divinely ordained worship of the Old Law ceased for ever, to make room for that of the Yew Law of which it had been the type. Since that time Israel, exiled from the land of promise, its priesthood extinguished, and its sacrifices at an end (as Malachy prophesied), has lived dispersed among the nations. But Divine Providence keeps it in existence, an unwilling witness to the revelations, prophesies, and judgments of God, until shortly before the end of the world, He will lead back in mercy His repentant people to the faith.

21. Q. What was the success of the Apostles among the heathens?

R. The Apostles converted great numbers of heathens in many lands. In the prominent cities of the Roman empire congregations were formed over which they placed their disciples as bishops and priests, and from these the Christian religion spread in ever-widening circles.

For instance, St. Paul appointed his disciple Titus as bishop of the island of Crete, and instructed him to ordain and send bishops to the different districts. St. Peter sent his disciple St. Mark to Alexandria, whence Christianity spread over all Egypt.

St. John ordained Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch. Maris, a disciple of St. Jude, established the Church in Seleucia and among the Chaldeans. From Rome disciples of the Apostles spread the faith to the cities of Italy, Sicily, Northern Africa, Gaul, Spain, and even to parts of Germany and Britain.

St. Justin wrote about the year 150: "There is no people, neither among the barbarians, nor the Greeks, not nor any God tribe, where prayers and thanksgivings are in the name of Christ Crucified."

22. Q. From whom came this wonderful success?

R. Such wonderful success could come from God alone; for to the proud and immoral heathen the doctrine of Christ Crucified seemed folly, and the practice of humility and Christian virtue, a moral impossibility.

Acts 24: St. Paul was invited to preach the faith before Felix, pagan governor of Syria, but "as he treated of justice and chastity and the judgment to come," Felix being terrified, answered: "For this time go thy way."

23. Q. How was divine worship practiced by the first Christians?

R. We learn from Holy Scripture, and Tradition, that Holy Mass with Communion and instruction was regularly celebrated: "They were persevering in the doctrines of the Apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in prayers" (Acts 2. 42).

After Baptism the sacrament of Confirmation was conferred by imposing hands and invoking the Holy Ghost as St. Peter and St. John did in Samaria and St. Paul in Ephesus (Acts 8. 17 and 19. 6). The sacrament of Penance included Confession of sins. "Many of them that believed came confessing and declaring their deeds." (Acts 19. 18.) The sacrament of Holy Orders was conferred, as in the case of Saul and Barnabas, by "fasting and praying and imposing their hands upon them" (Acts 13. 3). St. Paul called Matrimony "a great sacrament in Christ and in his Church", and admonished such as married to "marry in the Lord" (Eph. 5. 32, Cor.7. 39). St. James describes the sacrament of Extreme Unction (St. James 5. 14). Fasting was practiced at certain times, so that St. Augustine traced the Lenten fast back to apostolic institution. St. Ignatius ( 107 A.D.) wrote about the hierarchy of the apostolic age: "Let all be obedient to the bishop as Jesus to the Father, to the priests as to the Apostles, and to the deacons as God's law." He calls the Church of Rome the head of the great union of Charity (i.e. the head of the whole Church).

24. Q. Which of the Apostles have left sacred writings?

R. St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, St. Matthew, St. James, St. Jude Thaddeus, and two disciples of the Apostles, St. Luke and St. Mark.

Their writings form the New Testament, and have been placed by the Church on her list of inspired books, called the "Canon."

Four gospels by St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John. The acts of the Apostles by St. Luke. Fourteen epistles of St. Paul: To Romans (1), Corinthians (2), Galatians (1), Ephesians (1), Philippians (1), Colossians (1), Thessalonians (2), Timothy (2), Titus (1), Philemon (1), Hebrews (1). 1 epistle of St. James, 2 of St. Peter, 3 of St. John, 1 of St. Jude. Apocalypse of St. John.

25. Q. About what time were they written?

R. The Church had been evangelizing the world for about 17 years, St. James and St. Stephen had been martyred, and the persecution by the Jews had passed, when the Apostles began to write. The gospel of St. Matthew was compiled about the year 50, and that of St. John about the year 96. The other books of the New Testament were written during the intervening time.

26. Q. How were the books of the Old Testament received into the canon of the Church?

R. The books of the Old Testament were received into the canon of the Church as they had been handed down by ancient Jewish tradition, recognized by Christ and his Apostles, and sanctioned by the councils.

The canon of the Old and New Testament such as it is to-day, was defined in a council held at Rome under Pope Damasus ( A.D. 374) and also in the African councils of Hippo ( A.D. 393) and Carthage ( A.D. 397).

27. Q. Did the Church have published translations of the Bible for the people?

R. Translations of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek text were made under supervision of the Church even during the first centuries.

The Septuagint or Greek translation of the Old Testament, made about 200 years before Christ, was used by the Apostles and first Christians. For the Roman Empire a Latin translation of the entire Bible, called Itala, and for Egypt an Egyptian or Coptic translation appeared as early as the second century, and an Ethiopian and Armenian in the fourth and fifth centuries. Translations either total or partial followed for the barbarian nations of Europe, after they had been converted. f. i. A Gothic translation was made by bishop Ulfila, who invented the letters of the Gothic alphabet. ( A.D. 360.) Sts. Methodius and Cyril, apostles of the Slays, translated the Bible into Slavic, for which they also invented the characters of the alphabet. Venerable Bede, a learned Benedictine monk in England, finished on his deathbed an Anglo-Saxon translation of the gospel of St. John ( A.D. 735). St. Bridget of Sweden had a Swedish translation of the whole Bible in her library ( A.D. 1373).

28. Q. Did the disciples of the Apostles leave us any writings?

R. Several disciples of the Apostles, called also Apostolic Fathers, left important writings; for instance, St. Clement of Rome, third successor of St. Peter, wrote a letter to the Corinthians; St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch and disciple of St. John, left us seven letters, and St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and also a disciple of St. John, one letter. There is also a letter of St. Barnabas, the early companion of St. Paul.

These writings are the earliest witnesses of Tradition. In regard to the celebration of Sunday, St. Barnabas gives the reason, why Christians discard the Sabbath, and then continues: "But we celebrate with festive joy the eighth day on which Jesus rose from the dead;" St. Ignatius also writes: "They (Christians) have the new hope and do not keep the Sabbath, but regulate their lives according to the Lord's day." (Magnesians C. 9.) In the letter of St. Ignatius to the Philadelphians (C. 4) we find the words: "Partake of the one Eucharist; for one is the body of the Lord Jesus Christ and one is the chalice of his blood, one altar and one bishop with the priests and the deacons."

29. Q. Did any heresies arise in the apostolic age?

Yes; for St. Paul warned against false teachers, and St. John wrote his gospel against Cerinth and others who attacked the divinity of Christ. St. Peter refuted Simon Magus, who is called the father of heresy.

Simon offered money to St. Peter, in order to obtain the power of imparting the wonderful gifts of the Holy Ghost; but he was rebuked with the words: "Keep thy money to thyself to perish with thee." Hence the name "Simony" for the sin of selling or buying spiritual and holy things.

NOTE.—The apostolic age has left upon the Church the distinguishing mark of apostolicity. Her popes hold the legitimate and unbroken succession in the apostolic see, which St. Peter, as head of the Church, established in Rome; the lines of her bishops can be traced with undeniable certainty to apostolic origin; she received and guarded the writings of the Apostles and thus formed the canon of the New Testament; the bodies and relics of the Apostles rest under her altars. Of her, therefore, St. Paul says: "Built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ being Himself the cornerstone." (Eph. II, 20.)