The Four Marks of the Church, also known as the Attributes of the Church, is a term describing four distinctive adjectives—"One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic"—of traditional Christian ecclesiology as expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed completed at the First Council of Constantinople in AD 381: "[We believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." This ecumenical creed is today recited in the liturgies of the Catholic Church (both Latin and Eastern Rites), the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Church of the East, the Moravian Church, the Lutheran Churches, the Methodist Churches, the Presbyterian Churches, the Anglican Communion, and by members of Calvinism.
While many doctrines, based on both tradition and different interpretations of the Bible, distinguish one denomination from another, largely explaining why there are so many different ones, the Four Marks, when defined the same way, represent a summary of what many clergy and theologians have historically considered to be the most important affirmations of the Christian faith.
The ideas behind the Four Marks have been in the Christian Church since early Christianity. Allusions to them can be found in the writings of 2nd-century early Church Father and bishop Ignatius of Antioch. They were not established in doctrine until the First Council of Constantinople in 381 as an antidote to certain heresies that had crept into the Church in its early history. There the Council elaborated on the Nicene Creed, established by the First Council of Nicea 56 years before by adding to the end a section that included the affirmation: "[We believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."The phrase has remained in versions of the Nicene Creed to this day.
In some languages, for example, German, the Latin "catholica" was substituted by "Christian" before the Reformation by some, though this was an anomalyand continues in use by some Protestant churches today. Hence, "holy catholic" becomes "holy Christian."
Roman Catholics believe the description "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" to be applicable only to the Roman Catholic Church. They hold that "Christ established here on earth only one Church" and they believe in "the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church". While "there are numerous elements of sanctification and of truth which are found outside her structure", these, "as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity". The eastern Churches not in full communion with the Catholic Church thereby "lack something in their condition as particular Churches". The communities born out of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation "do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constituent element of the Church."
The Eastern Orthodox Church, in disagreement with the Roman Catholic, regards itself as the historical and organic continuation of the original Church founded by Christ and his apostles.The Oriental Orthodox Church disagrees with both and claims to be the historical and organic continuation of the original Church founded by Christ and his apostles, the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic" Church of the ancient Christian creeds and the only Church that has always kept the true Christology and faith declared by the first three councils, Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus affirmed by the Church Fathers and the Holy Tradition.
The Augsburg Confession found within the Book of Concord, a compendium of belief of the Lutheran Churches, teaches that "the faith as confessed by Luther and his followers is nothing new, but the true catholic faith, and that their churches represent the true catholic or universal church."When the Lutherans presented the Augsburg Confession to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1530, they believe to have "showed that each article of faith and practice was true first of all to Holy Scripture, and then also to the teaching of the church fathers and the councils." As such, the Lutheran Churches traditionally hold that theirs represents the true visible Church.
"There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." [Eph. 4:5–6] This list in the Pauline letters of factors making Christians one body, one church, is doubtless not meant to be exhaustive, says Francis Aloysius Sullivan, but it affirms the oneness of the body, the church, through what Christians have in common, what they have communion in. Elsewhere, Paul the Apostle says: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). This statement was about Christians as individuals, but it applied to them also as groups, as local churches, whether composed mainly of Jewish or Gentile Christians. In 1 Cor. 15:9, Paul spoke of himself as having persecuted "the church of God", not just the local church in Jerusalem but the same church that he addresses at the beginning of that letter as "the church of God that is in Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2). In the same letter, he tells Christians: "You are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor. 12:27), and declares that, "just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ" (1 Cor. 12:12).
The word holy means set apart for a special purpose by and for God. Christians understand the holiness of the universal Church to derive from Christ's holiness.
The word "catholic" is derived from the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos), meaning "general", "universal". It is associated with the Greek adverb καθόλου (katholou), meaning "according to the whole", "entirely", or "in general", a combination of the preposition κατά meaning "according to" and the adjective ὅλος meaning "whole".
Applied to the church, the adjective "catholic" means that in the church the wholeness of the Christian faith, full and complete, all-embracing, and with nothing lacking, is proclaimed to all people without excluding any part of the faith or any class or group of people.The adjective can be applied not only to the church as spread throughout the world but also to each local manifestation of the church, in each of which nothing essential is lacking for it to be the genuine Church of Christ.
For his subjects, Emperor Theodosius I restricted the term "catholic christians" to believers in "the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity", and applied the name "heretics" to others (Edict of Thessalonica of 27 February 380).
In the following year 381, the First Council of Constantinople adopted the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, expressing belief in "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church".
This describes the Church's foundation and beliefs as rooted and continuing in the living Tradition of the Apostles of Jesus.The Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Church of the East each claim to have preserved the original teaching of the apostles. They also have apostolic succession in that their bishops derive their authority through a direct line of laying on of hands from the apostles, a claim that they accept can be made by the other churches in this group. The Anglican Communion, as well as many Lutheran Churches such as the Church of Sweden, likewise teach the doctrine of apostolic succession. Other Christian denominations, on the other hand, usually hold that what preserves apostolic continuity is the written word: as Bruce Milne put it, "A church is apostolic as it recognizes in practice the supreme authority of the apostolic scriptures."
Apostolic succession is the method whereby the ministry of the Christian Church is held to be derived from the apostles by a continuous succession, which has usually been associated with a claim that the succession is through a series of bishops. Christians of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Old Catholic, Moravian, Hussite, Anglican, Church of the East, and Scandinavian Lutheran traditions maintain that "a bishop cannot have regular or valid orders unless he has been consecrated in this apostolic succession". Each of these groups does not necessarily consider consecration of the other groups as valid.
The word Catholic comes from the Greek phrase καθόλου katholou 'on the whole, according to the whole, in general', and is a combination of the Greek words κατά 'about' and ὅλος 'whole'. The first use of "Catholic" was by the church father Saint Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans. In the context of Christian ecclesiology, it has a rich history and several usages.
An episcopal polity is a hierarchical form of church governance in which the chief local authorities are called bishops. It is the structure used by many of the major Christian Churches and denominations, such as the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East, Anglican, and Lutheran churches or denominations, and other churches founded independently from these lineages.
The Nicene Creed is a Christian statement of belief widely used in liturgy. It is the defining creed of Nicene or mainstream Christianity, which includes those Christian denominations that adhere to the teaching of the creed. Nicene Christianity regards Jesus as divine and co-eternal with God the Father. Various non-Nicene doctrines, beliefs, and creeds have been formed since the fourth century, all of which are considered heresies by adherents of Nicene Christianity.
Sola scriptura is a theological doctrine held by some Protestant Christian denominations that posits the Christian scriptures as the sole infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice.
Chalcedonian Christianity refers to the branch of Christianity that accepts and upholds theological and ecclesiological resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon, the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held in 451. Chalcedonian Christianity accepts the Christological Definition of Chalcedon, a Christian doctrine concerning the union of two natures in one hypostasis of Jesus Christ, who is thus acknowledged as a single person (prosopon). Chalcedonian Christianity also accepts the Chalcedonian confirmation of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, thus acknowledging the commitment of Chalcedonism to Nicene Christianity.
Christian Church is an ecclesiological term referring to what different Christian denominations conceive of as being the true body of Christians or the original institution established by Jesus. It has been used in academia as a synonym for Christianity as well.
A Christian denomination is a distinct religious body within Christianity that comprises all church congregations of the same kind, identifiable by traits such as a name, peculiar history, organization, leadership, theological doctrine, worship style and sometimes a founder. It is a secular and neutral term, generally used to denote any established Christian church. Unlike a cult or sect, a denomination is usually seen as part of the Christian religious mainstream. Most Christian denominations self-describe as Churches, whereas some newer ones tend to use the terms churches, assemblies, fellowships, etc., interchangeably. Divisions between one group and another are defined by authority and doctrine; issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, biblical hermeneutics, theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and papal primacy may separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations—often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties—are sometimes known as "branches of Christianity". These branches differ in many ways, especially through differences in practices and belief.
Confessional Lutheranism is a name used by Lutherans to designate those who believe in the doctrines taught in the Book of Concord of 1580 in their entirety. Confessional Lutherans maintain that faithfulness to the Book of Concord which is a summary of the teachings found in Scripture, requires attention to how that faith is actually being preached, taught, and put into practice. Confessional Lutherans believe that this is a vital part of their identity as Lutherans.
The primacy of Peter, also known as Petrine primacy, is the position of preeminence that is attributed to Peter among the Twelve Apostles.
A church is a religious organization or congregation that meets in a particular location. Many are formally organized, with constitutions and by-laws, maintain offices, are served by clergy or lay leaders, and, in nations where this is permissible, often seek non-profit corporate status.
The term Evangelical Catholic is used in Lutheranism, alongside the term Augsburg Catholic, with those calling themselves Evangelical Catholic Lutherans or Lutherans of Evangelical Catholic churchmanship stressing the catholicity of historic Lutheranism in liturgy, beliefs, practices, and doctrines. Evangelical Catholics teach that Lutheranism at its core "is deeply and fundamentally catholic". The majority of Evangelical Catholic Lutheran clergy and parishes are members of mainstream Lutheran denominations.
Catholicity is a concept pertaining to beliefs and practices widely accepted across numerous Christian denominations, most notably those that describe themselves as Catholic in accordance with the Four Marks of the Church, as expressed in the Nicene Creed of the First Council of Constantinople in 381: "[I believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."
The doctrine of the Trinity, considered the core of Christian theology by Trinitarians, is the result of continuous exploration by the church of the biblical data, thrashed out in debate and treatises, eventually formulated at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 in a way they believe is consistent with the biblical witness, and further refined in later councils and writings. The most widely recognized Biblical foundations for the doctrine's formulation are in the Gospel of John.
In the history of Christianity, the first seven ecumenical councils include the following: the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the First Council of Constantinople in 381, the Council of Ephesus in 431, the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, the Third Council of Constantinople from 680–681 and finally, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787.
The expression "one true church" refers to an ecclesiological position asserting that Jesus gave his authority in the Great Commission solely to a particular Christian institutional church— what others would call a denomination, believers of this doctrine consider pre-denominational. This view is maintained by the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Episcopalian Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox communion, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East and the Churches of Christ. Each of them maintains that their own specific institutional church (denomination) exclusively represents the one and only original church. The claim to the title of the "one true church" relates to the first of the Four Marks of the Church mentioned in the Nicene Creed: "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church". As such, it also relates to claims of both catholicity and apostolic succession: asserting inheritance of the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority and responsibility that Jesus Christ gave to the apostles.
Lutheranism is one of the largest branches of Protestantism that identifies with the teachings of Jesus Christ and was founded by Martin Luther, a 16th-century German reformer whose efforts to reform the theology and practice of the church launched the Protestant Reformation. The reaction of the government and church authorities to the international spread of his writings, beginning with the 95 Theses, divided Western Christianity. During the Reformation, Lutheranism became the state religion of numerous states of Northern Europe, especially in northern Germany and the Nordic countries. Lutheran clergy became civil servants and the Lutheran churches became part of the state.
The Edict of Thessalonica, issued on 27 February AD 380 by three reigning Roman emperors, made the catholicism of Nicene Christians in the Great Church the state church of the Roman Empire. It condemned other Christian creeds such as Arianism as heresies of "foolish madmen," and authorized their persecution.
Christianity in late antiquity traces Christianity during the Christian Roman Empire – the period from the rise of Christianity under Emperor Constantine, until the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The end-date of this period varies because the transition to the sub-Roman period occurred gradually and at different times in different areas. One may generally date late ancient Christianity as lasting to the late 6th century and the re-conquests under Justinian of the Byzantine Empire, though a more traditional end-date is 476, the year in which Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus, traditionally considered the last western emperor.
Criticism of Protestantism covers critiques and questions raised about Protestantism, the Christian tradition which arose out of the Protestant Reformation. While critics praise Protestantism's Christ-centered and Bible-centered faith, Protestantism is faced with criticism mainly from the Catholic Church and some Orthodox Churches, although Protestant denominations have also engaged in self-critique and criticized one another.
It is interesting to note, however, that the Nicene Creed, recited by Roman Catholics in their worship, is also accepted by millions of other Christians as a testimony of their faith—Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and members of many of the Reformed Churches.
When the Lutherans presented the Augsburg Confession before Emperor Charles V in 1530, they carefully showed that each article of faith and practice was true first of all to Holy Scripture, and then also to the teaching of the church fathers and the councils and even the canon law of the Church of Rome. They boldly claim, “This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers” (AC XXI Conclusion 1). The underlying thesis of the Augsburg Confession is that the faith as confessed by Luther and his followers is nothing new, but the true catholic faith, and that their churches represent the true catholic or universal church. In fact, it is actually the Church of Rome that has departed from the ancient faith and practice of the catholic church (see AC XXIII 13, XXVIII 72 and other places).
In addition to the primary understanding of succession, the Lutheran confessions do express openness, however, to the continuation of the succession of bishops. This is a narrower understanding of apostolic succession, to be affirmed under the condition that the bishops support the Gospel and are ready to ordain evangelical preachers. This form of succession, for example, was continued by the Church of Sweden (which included Finland) at the time of the Reformation.
In Sweden the apostolic succession was preserved because the Catholic bishops were allowed to stay in office, but they had to approve changes in the ceremonies.