Taken from: The Creed Explained, or, An Exposition of Catholic Doctrine
, Rev. Arthur Devine,1897. Imprimatur
, Daniel Gilbert, Vicar. Capital. Westmonast, 28 April 1892. pp. 289-290; 292-293. Digitized text: http://www.archive.org/details/thecreed ... 00deviuoftIndefectibility.
2. This is a property by which the Church cannot fail; it is that by which she cannot either lose or have diminished any of her divine qualities or gifts even for a short time.
The doctrine of the indefectibility of the Church may be comprised in the following propositions :—
(a) The whole Church is indefectible.
(b) One part of the Church, namely, the Apostolic See,
(e) The particular Church of this or that particular diocese, or this or that particular nation, may fail and fall away.
Perpetuity is included in indefectibility. Although, rigorously speaking, unless God had ordained otherwise, the Church could be perpetual, without being in all respects indefectible; as a man remains the same human being even to death, although he fails in many respects, both in soul and body. Perpetuity imports continuation without interruption, but indefectibility imports duration and immutability as well.
Indefectibibty means more than infallibility. Infallibility extends only to those things which concern the Church's teaching in matters of faith and morals, but it does not imply that she is to continue always, or to the end of the world, bun that as long as she exists, she cannot err in these matters.
3. Heretics, in regard to the indefectibility of the Church, err on two points.
(1) As to the possibility of defection.
(2) As to the fact of defection.
They have held various opinions as to the possibility of defection.
(a) Some have held that the whole Church can fail entirely for a time.
(6) Some say the visible Church can fail, but not the invisible Church, as if these were two distinct Churches.
(c) Others affirm that, although the Church cannot fail entirely, she can do so in part, at least for a time, and even always by losing this or that attribute or perfection, or retaining it, but maimed and vitiated.
As to the fact of defection. All heretics of every sect hold that the Church has, in some way or other, failed; otherwise, as I have said, they cannot assign any reason for their separation from her; but as to the time of her defection, they are not agreed. On this point there are two extreme opinions. The first dates the defection of the Church from the Council oi Constance, in the year 1414. The second holds that defection began in the very time of the Apostles; in their time, they say, and in every age since, the Church was affected by a number of errors. This latter opinion is held by a great number of recent Protestant writers, such as Goode, Whately, and some Puseyites, as Palmer.
Against all these errors, Catholics hold the indefectibility of the Church, as above explained, and the proofs of it, and of her infallibility, may be said to be the same; and I shall therefore prove both at the same time, after I explain the nature and meaning of Infallibility.
(Continuation with proofs of indefectibility pp. 292-293.)
We may now assert the proposition, and assign the proofs which are given in support of the doctrine explained in this Section.
6. The Church is indefectible and infallible. Both parts of this proposition are so closely connected that the reasons for one prove the other; we may, however, for the sake of order, take them separately.
The Church is indefectible. This may be proved—
(a) From the promises of Christ. He promised (1) that the
gates of hell would not prevail against her.* (2) That He would be with her all days, even to the consummation of the world, &c.t From which we may conclude that, should the Church fail, the promises of Christ would not be fulfilled. The gates of hell would prevail, and Christ would cease to be with His Church. Therefore, the Church cannot be said to fail, but must be indefectible.
(b) The properties and attributes which are essential to the
Church, and flow from her original constitution, cannot fail, or the Church cannot lose them, or suffer them to be impaired. For if in any of them she did fail, or if any of them should be wanting in time, then she should cease to be that Church which was founded by Christ. For Christ founded His Church, that in all times and places she could supply men with the due means of salvation; and, therefore, she ought always to be, and to be capable of being deemed, the true Church of Christ, which would not be the case were she at any time to fail even in part, or lose any of her essential attributes. Men might then be deceived, as they would not be able to recognise any longer that which is the true Church established by Christ on earth. They would, therefore, be destitute of those means which would guide men in that affair which is the most excellent and necessary of all,
* St. Matt. xvi. t Ibid. xviii. See also St. Matt. lii. 25; Eplies. tv. 18. namely, in the knowledge of the true religion. And all this would be at variance with the end, which Christ had in view in establishing His Church. Against the fact of her defection, we can say that the present state of the Catholic Church, after so many ages, is an incontrovertible argument that she possesses the prerogative of indefectibility. "The Church," says St. Augustine, "will not be conquered, nor eradicated, nor will she yield to any temptation or trial until the end of the world comes.'1*