Pentecost NOT “Birth of the Church”

Editor: it is a common error, repeated often in homilies/sermons, that the Church was “born” at Pentecost.  We need only recall the Petrine verses in the Gospel, and Christ’s final command to his apostles prior to his Ascension into Heaven: “Go out into the whole world and baptize…” to recognise that this claim is false.  The apostles were strengthened at Pentecost, their faith renewed so that they had the courage to come out of hiding and obey Christ’s Ascension command to go into the whole world and spread the Faith.  The Church, however, was established by Christ Himself  during His time on earth, as amply reported in the New Testament.

Below, extracts from a short article on the subject…

Every Christian believes that Jesus Christ established and sustains a community of faith, hope and love for all believers. This community we call His Church. The Church that Christ founded is the Catholic Church which has a formal earthly structure established by Christ and which continues under His authority and protection.

 Jesus did three things that established the framework of His Church. First, He chose humans to carry out His work. He appointed Peter to be the visible head of the Church. Jesus said to Peter, “You are Rock and on this rock I will build my Church.” (Matthew 16: 18) Jesus said “build,” as in to create a structure. Jesus built His structure on specifically chosen human beings Peter and the apostles.

Second, Jesus gave Peter and the apostles the power and authority to carry out His work. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.”(Matthew 16:19; 18:18) “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whose sins you retain, they are retained.”(John 20:23)

Third, Jesus gave Peter and the apostles commands as to what that work should be. At the last supper, He commanded, “Do this in memory of Me.” (Luke 22:19) He commanded them to “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

The early Church was structured in a hierarchical manner as it is today. We see in Acts, chapter 15 how the apostles and the elders came together under the leadership of St. Peter to decide the question of what was required of Gentiles. We also see how St. Peter was regarded as the head of the Church when St. Paul, “Went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas [Peter] and remained with him fifteen days.” (Galatians 1:18) There is no Scriptural evidence of independent local churches.

The Catholic Church is the only church that can claim to have been founded by Christ personally. Every other church traces its lineage back to a mere human person such as Martin Luther or John Wesley. The Catholic Church can trace its lineage back to Jesus Christ who appointed St. Peter as the first pope. This line of popes has continued unbroken for almost 2,000 years.

God rules, instructs and sanctifies His people through His Church. Under her teaching office, the Catholic Church preserves the Word of God. She is the custodian, keeper, dispenser and interpreter of teachings of Christ. And she accomplishes this under the protection of the Holy Spirit. Source

Comment: 

It is important to note that there was never any time when the Church was known as “Christian Church” – never.  From the earliest times, the Church was called the “Catholic Church”.  The adjective “Roman” was added during the Reformation period by the Protestant Reformers to push their heresy that the Church is made up of “branches” – of which those who adhere to Rome are but one part.  Click here to read more.  There is one exception to the writer’s claim that “RC” is not used in official Church documents, and that exception is found in Humani Generis # 27 – click here.  However, Pope Pius XII is a recent pontiff, so the facts  stand, as detailed in the article How Did the Catholic Church Get Her Name?

What, if any,  difference does it make if priests preach that Pentecost celebrates “the birth of the Church”?    

43 responses

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1076 says that the Church was made manifest to the world on the day of Pentecost by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It does not say the Church was born on that day, per se.

    • I agree, the cowardly apostles only made the Church manifest after they were strengthened by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but the Church wasn’t “born” that day. It was established by Jesus during his lifetime.

  2. The Church surely began with the Birth of Jesus Christ, who remains head of The Church.

      • No, it is clear from Scripture that Jesus established his Church. It suggests a kind of symbolism if you say it was at his conception or birth.

        As the very good blog article says, Jesus actually set up his Church in a visible way, with people at it’s head etc. Although Jesus is the head of the Church, Peter (the popes) is the head of the Church on earth. As the article says, Jesus created a structure (hierarchical) and made appointments (Peter and the apostles – the first bishops) to run his Church.

        • If the Church is a community centred on Jesus Christ then it begins with him. He began his earthly life at his conception, and although we speak of his ministry – formally speaking – as lasting three years surely that formation was beginning from the time he started actually communicating with people. That is gathering family and friends around him.

          Likewise, if we call the family “The Domestic Church” then that first grouping surely began with Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

          The Institutional Church is necessary to carry on Christ’s Mission, but he he its Head, and Foundation Stone.

          • Petrus Regnat,

            By your logic, we would have to say that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross at Calvary took place at his conception! It doesn’t make sense. Have you watched the Catholic Truth video about the historical accuracy of the New Testament? There was no mention of a community of Church until Our Lord set it up with Peter as its head on this earth – that’s what the title Vicar of Christ means. We all know that Jesus is the Head of the Church but HE chose to have a vicar, representative on earth, to teach in his name. That didn’t happen at his conception but later when he appointed Peter.

            • Did Mary not benefit from the salvific work of Christ before it took place? I think that is what we celebrate when we celebrate her Immaculate Conception?

              What was Jesus doing when he was teaching in The Temple at the age of twelve? Just passing time? He had no formal followers then.

              I believe, too, for example some Church Father’s spoke of The Church being born when blood and water flowed from Jesus Christ’s body on the Cross.

              • Petrus Regnat,

                Our Lady was, by exception, saved at the moment of her conception but I don’t think you can extrapolate from that, that the Church was there from Our Lady’s conception, because we are talking about the visible body of Christ, not the spiritual power of God in preparing Mary for her role.

                Everything Jesus did was a preparation for the New Law, so his teaching in the temple at twelve was part of that, one of the many historical facts which are found about Jesus in the Gospels. He taught in the temple, he healed the sick, he taught in parables on the hillsides etc. That’s all part of what Jesus did to prepare people for the setting up of his Church and for the scandal of his death.

                I’ve heard that too about the connection between the blood of Christ on the cross and the Church but I think that’s possibly more an underlining of the supernatural side of the Church. The actual physical setting up of the Church is given in the Gospels as when Jesus gave Peter “the keys” and made the twelve his “hierarchy” at the Last Supper.

  3. “What, if any, difference does it make if priests preach that Pentecost celebrates “the birth of the Church”? “ (from blog introduction)

    The difference, IMHO, is that the impression is given that the Church is man-made if it only came into being after the death of Christ. The Protestants claim that it was the Holy Spirit who brought their churches into being when the Catholic Church went off the rails (in their view) so it is important not to give the impression that the Church was a later invention.

    • Laura,

      I agree. It’s because of this misunderstanding the people think the Church is a purely human institution.

  4. I suspect the use of the term “Christian Church” may have come from the fact that the early followers of Our Lord were called Christians. Tertullian (+240 A.D.), for example, in his Apology, refers to his fellow believers as “Christians,” not Catholics (he also calls the Church “God’s Church”).

    Origen (+253 A.D.) also uses “Christians,” as well as “Christianity” and “the Christian religion” in Against Celsus.

    St. John Cassian, however (+435 A.D.), in his Institutes, uses “Catholic.”

    On the subject of the correct implications of “Pentecost,” Spirago & Clarke (The Catechism Explained) seems to contradict itself:

    “1. Christ laid the foundation of the Church when, in the course of His teaching, He gathered a number of disciples, and chose twelve of these to preside over the rest and one to be Head of all.
    2. The Church first began its life on Pentecost, when some 3,000 people were baptized.
    Pentecost is the birthday of the Church.”

    If Christ laid the foundation of the Church when He gathered His disciplines, then obviously that foundation is the birthday of the Church…but, to continue the citation made by “Vivator” above, CCC # 1076 also says:

    “The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery’ – the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present and communicates his [sic] work of salvation through the liturgy of his [sic] Church, ‘until he [sic] comes.'”

    • RCA Victor,

      I’m surprised you think it was as late as the 5th century before the Church was called Catholic because there is evidence from the earliest writings in first century that the name of the Church was “Catholic”. Here’s a quote from the article on the above intro:

      “Very early in post-apostolic times, however. the Church did acquire a proper name–and precisely in order to distinguish herself from rival bodies which by then were already beginning to form. The name that the Church acquired when it became necessary for her to have a proper name was the name by which she has been known ever since-the Catholic Church.

      The name appears in Christian literature for the first time around the end of the first century. By the time it was written down, it had certainly already been in use, for the indications are that everybody understood exactly what was meant by the name when it was written.

      Around the year A.D. 107, a bishop, St. Ignatius of Antioch in the Near East, was arrested, brought to Rome by armed guards and eventually martyred there in the arena. In a farewell letter which this early bishop and martyr wrote to his fellow Christians in Smyrna (today Izmir in modern Turkey), he made the first written mention in history of “the Catholic Church.” He wrote, “Where the bishop is present, there is the Catholic Church” (To the Smyrnaeans 8:2). Thus, the second century of Christianity had scarcely begun when the name of the Catholic Church was already in use.

      Thereafter, mention of the name became more and more frequent in the written record. It appears in the oldest written account we possess outside the New Testament of the martyrdom of a Christian for his faith, the “Martyrdom of St. Polycarp,” bishop of the same Church of Smyrna to which St. Ignatius of Antioch had written. St. Polycarp was martyred around 155, and the account of his sufferings dates back to that time. The narrator informs us that in his final prayers before giving up his life for Christ, St. Polycarp “remembered all who had met with him at any time, both small and great, both those with and those without renown, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.”

      We know that St. Polycarp, at the time of his death in 155, had been a Christian for 86 years. He could not, therefore, have been born much later than 69 or 70. Yet it appears to have been a normal part of the vocabulary of a man of this era to be able to speak of “the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.”

      The name had caught on, and no doubt for good reasons.

      The term “catholic” simply means “universal,” and when employing it in those early days, St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Polycarp of Smyrna were referring to the Church that was already “everywhere,” as distinguished from whatever sects, schisms or splinter groups might have grown up here and there, in opposition to the Catholic Church.”

      I suppose there would be the odd person here or there who used “Christian” but if you are talking about the dating of the proper name of the Church, it seems to have been in use very early and in writing by end of the first century.That’s strong evidence for the apostolic roots of the Church.

      • Michaela,

        Thank you for that clarification, but I think you misunderstood my post. I wasn’t claiming that the Church wasn’t called Catholic until the 5th Century, I was merely trying to ascertain where the label “Christian Church” came from.

        You will notice that even in the source you cite, both the words “Catholic” and “Christian” are used – interesting, though, that “Catholic” is used to refer to the institution of the Church, whereas it seems “Christian” is used to refer to individual believers.

        Anyone know when “Christians” came to be described as “Catholics”?

        • RCA Victor,

          Sorry! I did misunderstand, so thanks for putting me right. I do think though that individual believers must also have been called Catholic early enough – otherwise the Protestant reformers wouldn’t have felt the need to add “Roman”!

    • We are told in Acts 11:26 that it is at Antioch the members of the early Church were called Christians.

      • Petrus Regnat,

        ACTS was written probably before 70AD (right after Luke’s gospel) so that explains why they were called Christians at that time.

        • Michaela

          I know when ACTS was written Thank You.

          The point I am flagging up is that if Holy Scripture records they we were first called Christians, at Antioch, it is unlikely that the term “Catholic” was used in the way we use it now. And if Catholic was the norm from earliest time that same mention in ACTS would surely say “it is at Antioch they were first called Catholic”. As has been stated by others, it means “Universal”. One can surely surmise the term Catholic spoke of the mission of The Church, and was not its name. That is the Church exists to proclaim The Gospel to the ends of the earth, a task given to it directly by Jesus himself.

          Any discussion about when the term “Roman” was used is pointless as it based on the correct notion our earthly H.Q. is now based in Rome, and we are Catholics of whatever hamlet, town, city or country we live in and only those in Rome are “Roman Catholics”.

          • Petrus Regnat,

            If you ask an Anglo-Catholic why they are called that, they will tell you that they belong to the Anglo-Catholic branch of the Catholic Church, just as the Roman Catholics do! That’s the purpose of the addition of “Roman”. The evidence has been given to you that the Church was called the Catholic Church, including by saints, in the early writings. I’m a bit puzzled that any Catholic would not be pleased about that!

            • Not once have I said I am not pleased! However, Holy Scripture attests we were first called Christians.

              Officially, there is no such thing as an Anglo-Catholic. They are members of The Church of England. (Therefore, the Anglo is to distinguish themselves from their own denomination, and ally themselves with a theology not upheld by all members of The C of E.!)

              I only joined this particular thread to highlight the fact that more than one event can be, and has been, called The Birthday of The Church, and for that reason it is best to highlight its Divine origin, and mandate, and that Christ is its Foundation Stone, and Head and not get hung up on times, or dates, or even its Institutional Structure. (Although that structure also serves a Divine purpose and is not, of itself, unimportant.)

    • Laura,

      If Pope Paul VI is a canonisable saint, he’ll be the first ever saint who comes across as proud and arrogant! I couldn’t believe that article, especially where he told the Archbishop he couldn’t allow special arrangements for his people (traditional Catholics) to pray as they did before the Council, as
      “We are a community. We cannot permit autonomy in behavior in different places.”

      I actually did LOL at that bit, given that you’d be hard pushed to find two novus ordo Masses that are even similar, let alone identical, and it is really not easy to find two novus ordo Catholics who believe the same thing about important teachings.

      It’s Archbishop Lefebvre who should be getting canonised not Paul VI.

      • Lily and Laura,

        I read that article too and I was struck by how defensive and almost hysterical Paul VI came across. I think he was actually afraid of Abp. Lefebvre. Too bad he was’t afraid enough of God to stop wrecking the Church.

        • RCA Victor,

          I completely agree. Reading Paul VI’s comments to the Archbishop now, is just incredible. I totally agree about him not being afraid enough of God, though, that’s true!

  5. I’ve been trying to find a version of Veni Creator Spiritus with English translation and they are few and far between on YouTube. Here’s one to prepare us for the Feast of Pentecost tomorrow…

    • the Roman soldier Longinus thrust a spear into the side of Jesus from forth which came blood and water, symbolising the birth of the infant church

      • “Symbolising”.

        However, the New Testament records the actual establishment by Christ, in history, of His hierarchical Church, with Peter as His Vicar (Representative) on earth: “He who hears you, hears Me”…. “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church…” etc.

        Happy Feast of Pentecost everyone!

  6. Today The Church celebrates a new feast, to be marked on the Monday after Pentecost each year.

    The preface for today translates as:

    “she was found worthy to conceive him
    in her virgin’s womb
    and, giving birth to the Creator,
    she nurtured the beginnings of the Church.”

    PREFACE Mary, Model and Mother of the Church
    Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere: Domine, sancte Pater, omnipotens aeterne Deus: Et te in celebratione beatae Mariae Virginis debitis magnificare praeconiis. Quae Verbum tuum immaculato corde suscipiens virgineo meruit sinu concipere atque, pariens Conditorem, Ecclesiae fovit exordia. Quae iuxta crucem testamentum divinae caritatis accipiens, universos homines in filios assumpsit, Christi morte ad supernam vitam generatos. Quae, cum Apostoli Promissum exspectarent tuum, supplicationem suam discipulorum precibus iungens, exemplar exstitit orantis Ecclesiae. Ad gloriam autem evecta caelorum, Ecclesiam peregrinantem materno prosequitur amore eiusque gressus ad patriam tuetur benigna, donec dies Domini gloriosus adveniat. Et ideo cum Sanctis et Angelis universis te collaudamus, sine fine dicentes: Sanctus.

    http://www.liturgies.net/saints/mary/motherofthechurch/mass.htm

    This reinforces my view that his conception, and birth, can be seen, in part, as The Birthday of The Church, but I also note elsewhere what matters more is that The Church has a Divine origin, and has received a Divine mandate.

    • From an allocution by Blessed Paul VI, Pope, at the Second Vatican Council
      The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

      ” Just as, in fact, the divine maternity is the basis for her special relationship with Christ, and for her presence in the economy of salvation brought about by Jesus Christ, thus it also constitutes the principal basis for the relations between Mary and the Church, since she is the mother of Him who, right from the time of His Incarnation in her virginal bosom, joined to Himself as head His Mystical Body which is the Church. Mary, then as mother of Christ, is mother also of all the faithful and of all the pastors.”

      • Petrus Regnat,

        Why you are beating this dead horse is beyond my understanding.

        From all eternity, God planned His Church. But, just as “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” does not change the fact that each one of us is born in history so, with the Church – it was established by Christ in the first century, given a form – hierarchical structure – and named people to lead it.

        That in no way contradicts – but underlines, or fulfils – the truth that, from all eternity God planned His Church. We don’t tell people that their birth date is unimportant (or didn’t happen!) because God knew them even before He formed them in the womb – do we?

        What IS the problem, then, regarding the establishment of Christ’s Church on earth during His lifetime? Do you NOT interpret the Petrine verses and other references to Christ’s Church in the Gospels, as historically true?

    • Petrus Regnat, in response to your comment today at 6.17pm

      As I’ve explained above- and as others have explained – the Church ALSO has a “physical” origin, in that it was established, given form and a hierarchical structure on this earth by Christ in the first century. That is an historical fact. See my reply to you above this comment, for a little more detail.

      • I am not disputing what you say. I am reinforcing the view that there is more than one claim – in the history of the Church – as to what people speak of as the Birthday of The Church, and to discuss it in terms of very specific days (e.g The First Pentecost) is nonsense.

        • OK – that’s been a misunderstanding then. I think though, that given the emphasis of the Modernists on a man-made Church, that we can change even the moral law because it’s all been wrongly interpreted by human beings, with the divine nature of the Church being denied outright, it’s best to keep things simple, Petrus Regnat. Yes, God has willed His Church, planned it from all eternity but it was established by Christ on this earth during His lifetime, with a specific, hierarchical, framework and people – men – in charge. Women had their part to play, not least Our Lady, the most important human being ever, but in terms of the structure of the Church, God’s will is clear.

          Heavens, pray that I don’t attract the mad feminists pushing for the ordination of women. I can think of few things as horrendous as telling my sins to a female. Hand bells and cries of “hear ye, hear ye” spring to mind 😀

  7. Editor,

    Catholic Family News has taken up the cudgels: https://www.catholicfamilynews.org/blog/2018/5/20/the-church-was-not-born-at-pentecost-cancel-the-birthday-party

    Key sentence: “Informed Catholics somberly recall the venerable and authoritative Traditional teaching based on Sacred Scripture that the Church was born amidst blood and water from the wounded side of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ on Calvary.”

    And plenty of authoritative quotes to support that sentence!

    • RCA Victor,

      I have found it a bit confusing reading these posts about Pentecost not being the birthday of the Church, to see all the quotes – such as the one you give that the Church was “born amidst blood and water from the wounded side of the Lord” as if that nullifies Our Lord’s own words in the Gospel where it is clear he is setting up his own hierarchy in his own Church, before his crucifixion. Is Catholic Family News actually denying this?

      • Laura,

        CFN is not denying anything that I’m aware of. The quotes they supply from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church all emphasize that the Blood and Water were the Sacraments from which the Church was born.

        I don’t have the theological knowledge to answer the implications of your question, but I think we should notice some things about those Scripture quotes:

        1. Our Lord said to Peter “Upon this rock I will build my Church.” In other words, the Church did not yet exist when He said that; it is a reference to a future event. Did He say “Upon this rock I now build my Church”? No.

        2. The citations in the lead article for this thread from John, Matthew and Mark all happened after the Resurrection. In other words, after the Blood and Water which flowed from His side and founded the Church.

        3. That leaves the citation from Luke; “Do this for a commemoration of me.” If you think about it, this is also a reference to the future, since “commemoration” is something referring to a past event. I wish I had an authoritative commentary on the Gospels to back me up, but it is almost as if Our Lord is saying “When you begin to function as My bishops [i.e. starting on Pentecost, as it turned out], do this.”

        I’ll leave it to others on this blog, much better catechized than I, to explore your question in more depth. Maybe Editor will also chime in, if she ever stops pubbing and clubbing in Ireland….

        • RCA Victor,

          I can only say what I’ve already said, and that is that the Gospels record the establishment of the Church on earth by Christ – obviously, it was to be in the future, after His death, but if words mean anything, His instructions to Peter and the Twelve are clear; they are to head His Church. Which means that Christ founded the Church, nobody else. Not Peter, not Martin Luther, but Christ.

          Peter professed his faith in the divinity of Christ which led to his appointment as the first pope. Then, when the shepherd was struck, when Christ was arrested, tried, put to death, the sheep scattered and went into hiding. The first pope and the first bishops, in hiding. Cowards.

          Then, as Christ had foretold, the Holy Spirit (not “the spirit of Jesus” as is erroneously preached all too often) came upon them in their hideout, and strengthened them for their mission of converting the world to Christ.

          I honestly cannot see the problem; the poetry of seeing the Church born from the water and blood on Calvary or similar poetic reflections, does not take away from the FACT that Christ established His Church while He was on earth, as reported in the historically grounded and accurate Gospels.

          If I’m still not making myself clear, I apologise – and I do note that the CFN article makes no reference to the Petrine texts / Gospels – but I really am struggling to see any contradiction between any of the Church Fathers and the Gospels in the matter of the Church’s beginnings. God planned it from all eternity, and Christ established its physical shape, so to speak, during His time on earth.

          I’m clearly missing the problem, but let’s leave it there. Life’s too short 😀

          • Thank you Editor, but just wanted to point out that it was Laura, not me, who was having trouble here.

            Laura, does Editor’s post answer your concerns?

            • RCA Victor,

              I didn’t have any concerns about editor’s posts, it was everybody else who seemed to be arguing with her that confused me! Her comments quote the Gospel and Jesus setting up his Church, as I was taught in primary school! Everyone else seemed to think the Church began at the crucifixion or at Our Lady’s conception! Then the CFN article quoted all sorts, with no mention of the Gospel!

            • RCA Victor,

              I doubt if those who do not want to believe in the historical fact of Christ’s establishment of His Church on earth will be convinced by anything I say. I’ve now had an email from a gentleman pointing to something on Dici supporting Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. I’m not encouraging blogging by email which is why I’m not posting his email here. He can sign up and post it himself if it’s that important.

              None of these people, however, are able to quote any papal source or any Church Father, who denies the obvious meaning of Christ’s words to Peter and the twelve in the Gospels. They seem keen to ignore those and quote something poetic about the Church coming forth – or similar poetry – at some point after Christ’s departure from this earth.

              It strikes me as really strange because it is only by citing the Gospels, and quoting Christ’s words to Peter the Rock, that we can demonstrate the truth that the Catholic Church is the only Church founded by Christ. Every other “church” is claiming to be an inspiration of the Holy Spirit! DUH!

  8. And here’s this same article’s refutation of Spirago & Clarke that I quoted earlier in this thread!

    “Also be aware that various publications – even some written before 1960 – lamentably evidence that many Catholics of different ranks and most Protestants adhere to the innovation that the Church was born at Pentecost. The Catechism Explained is a book written 118 years ago that has the gratuitous unsupported undocumented sentence: “Pentecost is the birthday of the Church.” This is a ‘red-flag’ that goes along with the Modernistic sub-title of the book: “An Exhaustive Exposition of the Christian Religion, with Special Reference to the Present State of Society and the Spirit of the Age.” No wonder Pope Saint Pius X had to write the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis on the doctrines of the Modernists in 1907. Modernism existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and has become even more virulent today.”

    • RCA Victor,

      That’s it, got it in one; if Christ did not found His Church, but left it to the Holy Spirit to do so later, then the Protestant Reformers got it right. Everyone his or her own pope! If Christ did not design a hierarchical Church, who had the temerity to do so?

      That’s what this “Pentecost is the birthday of the Church” is all about. Lamentable that so many Catholic preachers have fallen for it.

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