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The Early Church Fathers on the Church's Sanctity.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Ignatius of Antioch, (A.D. 50-107)
    St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202)
    Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253)
St. Ignatius of Antioch, (A.D. 50-107), Syrian; ecclesiastical writer, bishop, martyr. A disciple of St. John, the Apostle; he was bishop of Antioch, in which see he succeeded St. Peter, or, as others think, Evodius. He is supposed to have governed that church for about forty years. He suffered martyrdom at Rome in the year 107.

"Let no man deceive you; if a man be not within the altar, he faileth of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two have such force, how much more that of the bishop and of the whole Church! He therefore that does not come together into the same place (with it), he is proud already, and hath condemned himself. For it is written, "God resisteth the proud." (St. James 4) Let us take heed, therefore, that we do not set ourselves against the bishop, "that we may be set under God."

Ep. ad Magnesianos.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 13

7. "As therefore our Lord, being united (with the Father), did nothing without Him, neither by Himself, nor by his Apostles, so neither do you do anything apart from the bishop and the presbyters. Neither attempt ye anything that seems good to your own judgment, but let there be in the same place one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love, in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is better. Wherefore, haste ye all together as unto the temple of God; as unto one altar, as unto one Jesus Christ."

Ep. ad Magnesianos.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 14

3. "Likewise, let all men give heed to the deacons, as Jesus Christ, as also the bishop, being the Son of the Father; to the presbyters, as a council of God, and a band of Apostles. Apart from these, it is not called a church."

Ep. ad Trallian
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 15

7. "Guard against such men (heretics); and guarded ye will be, if ye are not puffed up, nor separated from the God Jesus Christ, and from the bishop, and from the regulations of the Apostles. He that is within the altar is pure; but he that is without is not pure: that is, he who does anything apart from bishop and presbytery and deacon, he is not clean in conscience."

Ep. ad Trallian
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 15

St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202), Asia Minor; bishop, missionary, theologian, defender of orthodoxy. Though by birth a Greek, he was Bishop of Lyons in the second century. He tells us that, in his early youth, he learned the rudiments of religion from St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Apostle. He wrote several works, of which only a few fragments are now known, with the exception of his Treatise against Heretics which we have in five books.

In the Church, saith he, God hath placed apostles prophets, doctors, and every other operation of the Spirit, of which all they are not partakers who do not hasten to the Church, but by their evil sentiment and most flagrant conduct, defraud themselves of life. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every grace; but the Spirit is truth. Wherefore, they who do not partake of it, are neither nourished unto life from the breasts of a mother, nor see the most clear spring which flows from Christ's body, but dig unto themselves broken cisterns out of earthy trenches, and out of the tilth drink foul water, fleeing from the faith of the Church, lest they be brought back; but rejecting the Spirit that they may not be instructed."

Adv. Hæres. L. iiic. 24, n. I, p. 223.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 19-20

4. "So also Polycarp, who not only had been instructed by Apostles, and had conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but was also appointed, by Apostles, bishop of Smyrna, in Asia, Him we saw in our early youth. . . . The things which he had learned from the Apostles, those he uniformly taught, which also he delivered to that Church, which also alone are true. To these all the churches throughout Asia, and they who to this day have succeeded to Polycarp, bear testimony, being a witness of truth much more credible and more faithful than Valentinus and Marcion, and the rest of the perverse thinkers. And this Polycarp having come to Rome, under Anicetus, converted many from amongst the aforesaid heretics, unto the Church of God; proclaiming that he had received from the Apostles that one and only truth, which he delivered to the Church. And there are those who heard him say, that John, he who was the Lord's disciple, having gone forth to bathe in Ephesus, and seeing Cerinthus within, hurried forth from the bath without bathing, and exclaiming, "Let us fly, for fear lest the bath fall, as Cerintlms, the enemy of the truth, is within." And this very Polycarp, when Marcion once met him, and said, "Dost thou know us?" I replied, "I know thee as the first-born of Satan. . . . And there is a very powerful epistle of Polycarp's, written to the Philippians, out of which they who choose, and have heed of their salvation, can learn both the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. . . . But the church also in Ephesus, founded indeed by Paul, but with which John remained until the days of Trajan, is a veracious witness of the tradition of Apostles.

Adv. Hæres. l. iii. c. 3, n, 1-4, pp. 175-177
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 249-250

Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253), Alexandrian; born in Egypt, philosopher, theologian, writer.

"If thou eatest the words of God in the church, and eatest also in the synagogue of the Jews, thou transgressest the commandment which says: "In one house shall it be eaten. (Exodus 12) But if thou partakest of the words of God in one house, the church; then, having left it, thou undertakest to partake of God in an heretical synagogue, though the command says: "In one house shall it be eaten", thou doest not eat in one house. Wherefore understand by one house, the church; eat not therefore by any means of the Lamb out of the church.

"And ye shall not carry forth from the house of the flesh." (Exodus 12) The ecclesiastical word ought not to be heralded out of the church, as neither is the flesh to be carried out of the house: I mean into the synagogue of Jews, or heretics. For it is like to casting "pearls before swine".

T. ii. Select, in Exod. p. 123.
For a similar passage, see T. ii. Hom. iv. in Levit. 71. 8, p. 203.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 132



The sanctity of the Church is deduced as a necessary consequence from the other marks by which that Church is distinguished.


For, if there be but one Church, — the Catholic, or universal Church, — which has received authority from Christ to teach all nations; with an authority which, through His promises, is to endure "all days, even to the consummation of the world", it is manifest that the doctrines and precepts of that Church must be holy all days.


That is, unless the Church ceased to be the pillar and ground of truth, (1 Timothy 3:15) which would cause the gates of Hell to prevail against that universal Christendom, which, according to the premises, we are commanded to hear, and follow her faithfully. (Luke 10:16)


The Catechism tells us the Church . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as 'alone holy,' and loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God." (Ephesians 5:25-26) The Church, then, is "the holy People of God," and her members are called "saints".


The Church's Scriptures that support the Sanctity of the Church:


Jesus delivered Himself up on the Cross to sanctify the Church so it would be holy and without blemish.

25 "Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it; 26 that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life. 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 5:25-27

The faithful consist of a universal kingly priesthood and a holy nation.

9 "But you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people: that you may declare His virtues, who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light."


1 Peter 2:9

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