The Nicene Creed of AD 325 professes belief in “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church (811) states:
“This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, indicate essential features of the Church and her mission. The Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities.”
Thus, to identify the Church founded by Jesus, there’s a need to know the one that has the four chief marks or qualities of His Church. The Church must be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
THE CHURCH IS ONE
Jesus Christ established only one Church, not a collection of differing churches. The Church is the bride of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:23–32). Therefore, Jesus can have but only one spouse, and His spouse is the Catholic Church.
His Church also teaches just one set of doctrines, which must be the same as those taught by the apostles (cf. Jude 3). This is the unity of belief to which Scripture calls the followers of Christ (cf. Philippians 1:27, 2:2).
In the letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul said: “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” (4:5-6). The apostle also added: “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” (Galatians 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 Corinthians 15:9, St. 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 Corinthians 1:2). In the same letter, he told the Christians: “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 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 Corinthians 12:12).
The Lord Himself prophesied that “there shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John 10:16). In John 17:17-23: Jesus even prayed that His followers “may be one as we are one,” and “may be brought to perfection as one.” Thus, in response, St. Paul admonished all to avoid divisions: “I appeal to you … that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
THE CHURCH IS HOLY
By His grace, Jesus makes the Church holy, just as He is holy. This doesn’t mean that each member is always holy. Jesus said there would be both good and bad members in the Church (cf. John 6:70), and not all the members would go to heaven (Matthew 7:21-23).
The word “holy” means set apart for a special purpose by and for God. It does not imply that the members of the Church are free from sin, nor that the institution of the Church cannot sin. Christ’s Church is holy because it is Christ’s Church: “…upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus founded His Church to continue His redemptive and sanctifying work in the world. It is to understand that the holiness of the universal Church is derived from Christ’s holiness (cf. Matthew 16:19).
The Church itself is holy because it is the source of holiness and is the guardian of the special means of grace Jesus established, the sacraments. In Ephesians 5:25-30, it reads: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
St. Peter the Apostle, bishop of Rome, is very clear on this: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God … Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:9-10). He was also supported by St. Paul: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
THE CHURCH IS CATHOLIC
The Church is called catholic (“universal” in Greek) because it is His gift to all people. Christ told His apostles to go throughout the world and make disciples of “all nations” (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).
For almost two millenia, the Holy Catholic Church has carried out this mission, preaching the good news that Christ died for all men and that He wants all to be members of His universal family (cf. Galatians 3:28).
At present, the Holy Catholic Church is found in every corner of the world and is still sending out missionaries to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).
The Church Jesus established was known by its most common title, “the Catholic Church,” at least as early as the year AD 107, when Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, used that title to describe the one Church Jesus founded. The title apparently was old in Ignatius’s time, which means it probably went all the way back to the time of the apostles.
Jesus Christ Himself prophesied the foundation of His Catholic Church: “And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer FOR ALL NATIONS’? (Mark 11:17)”
THE CHURCH IS APOSTOLIC
The Church Jesus founded is apostolic because He appointed the apostles to be the first leaders of the Church, and their successors were to be its future leaders. The apostles were the first bishops, and, since the first century, there has been an unbroken line of Catholic bishops faithfully handing on what the apostles taught the first Christians in Scripture and oral Tradition (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).
The Church is apostolic because it was founded by Christ upon the apostles (cf. Ephesians 2:19-20) with is Peter as the first among them (cf. Matthew 16:18). The Church, through the apostles, was then given authority by Christ to proclaim the good news of salvation: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee … And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’” (Matthew 16,18-20).
As St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, wrote in his De Fide et Symbolo:
“We believe in Holy Church; for even heretics and schismatics style their assemblies ‘churches’. But whereas heretics violate the faith by their false ideas about God, schismatics, by their wicked separation, cut themselves off from fraternal charity. Hence neither do heretics belong to the Catholic Church, for it loves God; nor do schismatics, for the Catholic Church loves its neighbor . . . (c. 21).
The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church centered at Rome and sojourning in all corners of the world is the true Church founded by Christ in AD 33 upon the apostles led by Peter.