The Visible Church


With few exceptions, such as the Orthodox and Anglican Churches, there is a necessity in protestantism to marginalize the Church as merely "an invisible body of believers". What this sort anti-scriptural theology does, is attempt to legitimize the rejection of any sort of visible, or historical Church or hierarchy. The prime target of this sort of "theology" is almost always the Catholic Church.

The Biblical Church: Visible and One

Ephesians 1:22 
And he hath subjected all things under his feet and hath made him head over all the church,

Ephesians 1:23 
Which is his body and the fulness of him who is filled all in all.

Christ was visible through the incarnation. His body was visible. He calls the Church His body. It therefore inherits the characteristic of being visible, as an extension and result of the incarnation. If he meant for it to be invisible, he would not have used the word body, but perhaps soul, which is in fact invisible.

1 Timothy 3:15 
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

How does one journey (as Paul plans to do here) to an "invisible body of believers". I imagine this task being quite difficult.

Matthew 5:14 
You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid.

The Church is an extension of the incarnation. It is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23). The city is a reference to the Church. Jesus tells us the Church cannot be hidden (invisible).

Matthew 12:25
And Jesus knowing their thoughts, said to them: Every kingdom divided against itself shall be made desolate: and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.

Mark 3:25
And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

Luke 11:17 
But he seeing their thoughts, said to them: Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation; and house upon house shall fall.

These verses accurately describe Protestantism, and the rejection of the Church that existed before man founded denominations (or non denominations). Even within the most prevalent forms of protestantism, schisms from each other have not ceased. This is a key point in which several proponents of invisible Church theology attempt to, without documenting or otherwise substantiating the claim, state that their "true" form of Christianity has always existed. For them though, it is unknowable in history (this is one of the benefits of being invisible). For if they concede that they were starting something new, then they admit their err.

Matthew 16:18
And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Jesus says "I will build my Church" not "I will build my Churches". There is one true Church built upon one rock with one teaching authority. There is no scripture supporting schism, nor many different denominations all with differing theological opinions being the "one Church", invisibly forming the body. Bodies are visible, not invisible.

Matthew 16:19
And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

Matthew 18:18
Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.

Jesus gave the Apostles binding and loosing authority. Because these are visible acts, they are impossible if the Church is invisible.

John 10:16 
And other sheep I have that are not of this fold: them also I must bring. And they shall hear my voice: And there shall be one fold and one shepherd.

This cannot be many denominations all teaching different doctrines. Those outside the fold must be brought into the Church.

John 17:11
And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou hast given me: that they may be one, as we also are.

John 17:21
That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

John 17:23
I in them, and thou in me: that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me.

Jesus' perfect oneness with the father is what he prays that His followers have. The oneness Jesus prays for cannot mean the never ending divisions of Christianity that have been birthed by the Protestant reformation, or differing theological opinions of so called "non denominational Churches". There is perfect oneness only in the Catholic Church. The perfect effectiveness of Jesus' prayer (John 17:9-26) is evidenced by the miraculous unity of the Catholic Church during her 2,000 year visible history (cf. John 17:21).

John 17:21
That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

Jesus is talking about visible unity as a tool for demonstrating that the Father has sent Him. This is of profound importance. "Invisible Unity" can perform no such function. It can bear no witness because being invisible, it cannot be seen. There is only one Church that is universally united, and that is the Catholic Church. Only the unity of the Catholic Church truly bears witness to the reality that Jesus Christ was sent by the Father.

Romans 15:5 
Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind, one towards another, according to Jesus Christ:

Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that we must be in harmony. This harmony is only possible with one Church and one deposit of faith. Indeed this is only possible by the charity of the Holy Spirit which dwells within the Church. Protestantism did not birth harmony, but confusion and division, as it continues to do today.

Romans 16:17 

Now I beseech you, brethren, to mark them who make dissensions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned and avoid them.

Paul says we are to avoid those who create dissensions and difficulties. This includes men who break away from the Catholic Church and start new denominations. Their teaching is to be avoided, countered firmly, and they are to be brought back into the one fold of Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:10 
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no schisms among you: but that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment.

At no point in time does the Bible give the Holy Spirit as the equalizer for disagreements. Paul is an Apostle and he is speaking from a position of authority granted him by Christ. It is the Church that is the decider in arguments of faith. Protestants beware.

Ephesians 1:22 
And he hath subjected all things under his feet and hath made him head over all the church,

Ephesians 1:23 
Which is his body and the fulness of him who is filled all in all.

Ephesians 5:23 
Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body.

Ephesians 5:24 
Therefore as the church is subject to Christ: so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things.

Ephesians 5:25 
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church and delivered himself up for it:

Ephesians 5:26 
That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life:

Ephesians 5:27
That he might present it to himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Ephesians 5:28 
So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

Ephesians 5:29 

For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church:

Ephesians 5:30 

Because we are members of him, body, of his flesh and of his bones.

Ephesians 5:31 
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother: and shall cleave to his wife. And they shall be two in one flesh.

Ephesians 5:32 
This is a great sacrament: but I speak in Christ and in the church.

Colossians 1:18
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may hold the primacy:

Colossians 1:19
Because in him, it hath well pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell:

Colossians 1:20

And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth and the things that are in heaven.

Colossians 1:21
And you, whereas you were some time alienated and enemies in mind in evil works:

Colossians 1:22
Yet now he hath reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unspotted and blameless before him:

Colossians 1:23
If so ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and immoveable from the hope of the gospel which you have heard, which is preached in all the creation that is under heaven: whereof I Paul am made a minister.

Colossians 1:24
Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church:

The Church cannot mean invisible unity, because Paul repeatedly calls it the body (not the soul) of Christ. Bodies are visible, while souls are invisible.

1 Timothy 6:4 
He is proud, knowing nothing, but sick about questions and strifes of words; from which arise envies, contentions, blasphemies, evil suspicions,

Paul warns us about men who seek to create controversies and disputes about words. There must be a universal authority to appeal to that can trace it's authority back to Christ. Again, at no point in time is this sort of dispute "settled by the Holy Spirit", but by the Church, under the guidance thereof, of which it is promised to be Paraclete (cf. Ephesians 2:20, John 14:16).

2 Timothy 2:14 
Of these things put them in mind, charging them before the Lord. Contend not in words: for it is to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.

Do not argue about words as this only ruins the hearer. 2,000 years of doctrinal unity is a sign of Christ's Church.

2 Timothy 4:3 
For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears:

We must believe Christ when he said he would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church (cf. John 14:16) and to protect her from error (cf. Matthew 16:18). Men who have found ways to manipulate the minds of their audiences into disbelieving these things Christ said lack humility and serve their own desires. We must accept in entirety what Christ's Church teaches if we believe the promises of Christ, and reject these men such as Luther, Calvin and so on. Again, the sort of smoke and mirrors denial of history that comes along with many non Catholic denominations is setup to blind it's followers to the obviousness of this and other violations.

Revelation 7:9 
After this, I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.

The Kingdom of Heaven is populated by souls of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues. This is what "Catholic" means; "universal".

Daniel 7:14 
And he gave him power, and glory, and a kingdom: and all peoples, tribes, and tongues shall serve him: his power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away: and his kingdom that shall not be destroyed.

A prophecy of Daniel foretells that all people, nations and languages shall serve Christ's kingdom. This catholicity is only found in the Catholic Church.

1 Corinthians 14:33 
For God is not the God of dissension, but of peace: as also I teach in all the churches of the saints.

Neither God nor the Holy Spirit can be the author of protestant confusion. Only the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church claims and proves to be Christ's Church.

The Church Fathers

“Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters…It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord's Scriptures. For the Church has been planted as a garden (paradisus) in this world; therefore says the Spirit of God, 'Thou mayest freely eat from every tree of the garden,' that is, Eat ye from every Scripture of the Lord; but ye shall not eat with an uplifted mind, nor touch any heretical discord."
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:20 (A.D. 180).

"I shall at once go on, then, to exhibit the peculiarities of the Christian society, that, as I have refuted the evil charged against it, I may point out its positive good. We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope. We meet together as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This violence God delights in…We assemble to read our sacred writings, if any peculiarity of the times makes either forewarning or reminiscence needful. However it be in that respect, with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast; and no less by inculcations of God's precepts we confirm good habits."
Tertullian, Apology, 39:1 (A.D. 197).

"To sum up all in one word--what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible."
Letter to Diognetus, 6:1 (A.D. 200).

"You may learn, if you will, the crowning wisdom of the all-holy Shepherd and Instructor, of the omnipotent and paternal Word, when He figuratively represents Himself as the Shepherd of the sheep…Such are the promises of the good Shepherd. Feed us, the children, as sheep. Yea, Master, fill us with righteousness, Thine own pasture; yea, O Instructor, feed us on Thy holy mountain the Church, which towers aloft, which is above the clouds, which touches heaven."
Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, I:9 (A.D. 202).

"We are not to give heed to those who say, Behold here is Christ, but show him not in the Church, which is filled with brightness from the East even unto the West; which is filled with true light; is the 'pillar and ground of truth'; in which, as a whole, is the whole advent of the Son of Man, who saith to all men throughout the universe, 'Behold, I am with you all the days of life even unto the consumption of the world.'"
Origen, Commentary on Matthew, Tract 30 (A.D. 244).

"The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church. The Lord warns, saying, 'He who is not with me is against me, and he who gathereth not with me scattereth.'
Cyprian, On Unity, 6 (A.D. 251).

"Separate a ray of the sun from its body of light, its unity does not allow a division of light; break a branch from a tree,--when broken, it will not be able to bud; cut off the stream from its fountain, and that which is cut off dries up. Thus also the Church, shone over with the light of the Lord, sheds forth her rays over the whole world, yet it is one light which is everywhere diffused, nor is the unity of the body separated. Her fruitful abundance spreads her branches over the whole world. She broadly expands her rivers, liberally flowing, yet her head is one, her source one; and she is one mother, plentiful in the results of fruitfulness: from her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her spirit we are animated."
Cyprian, Unity of the Church, 5 (A.D. 256).

"'A city built upon a mountain cannot be hid' The light, or lamp of Christ, is not now to be hidden under a bushel, nor to be concealed by any covering of the synagogue, but, hung on the wood of the Passion, it will give an everlasting light to those that dwell in the church. He also admonishes the apostles to shine with like splendour, that by the admiration of their deeds, praise may be given to God."
Hilary of Poitiers, Commentary on Matthew, 5:13 (A.D. 355).

"'And his throne as the sun before me.' Understand, by the 'throne' of Christ, the Church; for in it he rests. The Church of Christ, then, he says, shall be refulgent and enlighten all under heaven, and be abiding as the sun and the moon. For this passage says so: 'His throne as the sun before me, and as the moon perfect forever, and a faithful witness in heaven.'"
Athanasius, Exposition in the Psalms, 88 (ante A.D. 373).

"'And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of the mountains' The house of the Lord, 'prepared on the top of the mountains,' is the church, according to the declaration of the apostle, 'Know,' he says, 'how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God' Whose foundations are on the holy mountains, for it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. One also of these mountains was Peter, upon which the rock the Lord promised to build his church."
Basil, Commentary on Isaiah, 2:66 (A.D. 375).

"Not therefore on that Mount Zion does Isaias look down upon the valley, but on that holy mountain which is the church, that mountain which lifts its head over the whole Roman world under heaven...a church which is throughout the world, wherein there is one Catholic church."
Optatus of Mileve, Against the Donatist, 3:2 (A.D. 384).

"Petilianus said: 'If you declare that yon hold the Catholic Church, the word 'catholic' is merely the Greek equivalent for entire or whole. But it is clear that you are not in the whole, because you have gone aside into the part.' Augustine answered: I too indeed have attained to a very slight knowledge of the Greek language, scarcely to be called knowledge at all, yet I am not shameless in saying that I know that means not 'one,' but 'the whole;' and that means "according to the whole:" whence the Catholic Church received its name, according to the saying of the Lord, 'It is not for you to know the times, which the Father hath put in His own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and even in the whole earth.' Here you have the origin of the name 'Catholic.'
Augustine, Answer to Letters of Petilian, 2:38 [90] (A.D. 400).

"It is an easier thing for the sun to be quenched, than for the church to be made invisible."
John Chrysostom, In illud: vidi Dom. (ante A.D. 407).

"For the church is in lofty and conspicuous, and well known to all men in every place. It is also lofty in another sense; for her thoughts have nothing earthly, but she is above all that is earthly, and with the eyes of the understanding, looks upon, as far as it is possible, the glory of God, and glories in doctrines truly exalted, concerning God ... Wherefore, with justice may the house of God be called a mountain (known) by the understanding, and it is perfectly visible, as being raised upon the hills; and one may say of it, and with great cause, what as a notable illustration was uttered by the mouth of the Saviour: 'A city placed upon a hill cannot be hidden'"
Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Isaias, (ante A.D. 429).

Additional Commentary

Contributed by Fr. John Rickert, FSSP, St. John Vianney, Maple Hill, KS

"One point in regard to the Visible Church which I thought I would mention.  We know that a sacrament is a visible and outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.  Even if a non-Catholic would not accept this definition, it can become the starting point for an argument that the Church itself must be visible.  We have a visible and outward sign, Baptism.  All Christians agree on that.  But what happens when there are questions about it?  Who can be the minister?  Who can be the recipient?  Is it lawful to baptize infants, or not?  Is it lawful to baptize by infusion, or must it by immersion only?  Can it ever be repeated?  When we have questions about the visible and outward signs, it only makes sense that there is a visible and identifiable body entrusted with answering the questions, so that we may know the true rule of faith.  Sola Scriptura won't work, even though Holy Scripture is a visible, tangible entity, because it is from Scripture itself that many of these questions arise.  Thanks to the visible and identifiable Catholic Church, infallibly protected from error, we can know with certainty what is needed for the valid and licit reception of the Sacraments."


Based on Original Work by John Salza. I have since modified exegesis.