The True Church is Visible

The following is an excerpt from St. Francis DeSales' "The Catholic Controversy," a collection of apologetic tracts written against the Protestants in the late 16th century.  

The ancients had wisely said that to distinguish correctly the different times referred to in the Scriptures is a good rule for interpreting them aright; for lack of which distinction the Jews continually err, attributing to the first coming of the Messias what is properly said of the second: and the adversaries of the Church err yet more grossly, when they would make the Church such from the time of St. Gregory to this age as it is to be in the time of antichrist.

They wrest to this sense that which is written in the Apocalypse (12:6), that the woman fled into solitude; and draw the consequence that the Church has been hidden and secret, trembling at the tyranny of the Pope, this thousand years, until she has come forward in Luther and his adherents. But who sees not that all this passage refers to the end of the world, and the persecution of antichrist, the time three years and a half being expressly determined therein; and in Daniel also (7:7)?

And he who would by some gloss extend this time which the Scripture has limited would openly contradict Our Lord, who says (Matt. 24:22) that for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened. How then do they dare to transfer this Scripture to an interpretation so foreign to the intention of the author, and so contrary to its own circumstances, refusing to look at so many other holy words which prove and certify, loudly and clearly, that the Church shall never be in the desert thus hidden until that extremity, and for that short time; that she will be seen to flee thither and be seen thence to come forth?

I will not again bring forward the numerous passages previously cited, in which the Church is said to be like to the sun, the moon, the rainbow, a queen, a mountain as great as the world - and a multitude of others. I will content myself with putting before your consideration two great captains of the ancient Church, two of the most valiant that ever were, St. Augustine and St. Jerome.

David had said (Ps. 47:1): The Lord is great and exceedingly to be praised, in the city of our God in his holy mountain. "This is the city," says St. Augustine [In Ps. xlvii], "set on a mountain, that cannot be hid. This is the light which cannot be concealed, nor put under a bushel, which is known to all, famous to all." For it follows: With the joy of the whole earth is Mount Sion founded. And in fact how would Our Lord, who said that men do not light a candle and put it under a bushel (Matt. 5:15), have placed so many lights in the Church to go and hide them in certain unknown corners?

St. Augustine continues:


"This is the mountain which covers the whole face of the earth: this is th ecity of which it is said: A city set on a mountain cannot be hid. The Donatists (the Calvinists) come up to the mountain, and when we say to them, ascend, "it is not a mountain," say they, and they rather strike their heads against it than establish their dwelling on it. Isaias, whom we read yesterday, cried out (2:2): In the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of mountains, and all nations shall flow into it. What is there so visible as a mountain? Yet there are mountains unknown because they are situated in a corner of the earth. Who amongst you knows Olympus? No one, I am sure, any more or any less than its inhabitants know our Mount Giddaba. These mountains are in parts of the earth: but that mount not so; for it has filled the whole face of the earth. The stone cut from the mountain, without any new operation (Dan. 2), is it not Jesus Christ, springing from the race of the Jews without operation of marriage? And did not this stone break in pieces all the kingdoms of the earth, that is, all the dominations of idols and demons? Did it not increase until it filled the whole earth? It is then of this mountain that is said the word, prepared on the top of mountains; it is a mountain elevated above the heads of all mountains, and all nations shall flow into it. Who can get lost, or can miss this mountain? Who knocks against and breaks his head against this? Who fails to see the city set on a mountain? Yet no; be not astonished that it is unknown to those who hate the brethren, who hate the Church. For by this they walk in darkness, and know not where they go. They are separated from the rest of the universe, they are blind with anger."

Such are the words of St. Augustine against the Donatists, but the present Church so perfectly resembles the first Church, and the heretics of our age those of old, that by merely changing the names the ancient reasons press the Calvinists as closely home as they did those ancient Donatists.

St. Jerome (Contra Lucif. 14,15) enters into the fray from another side, which is just as dangerous to you as the former; for he makes it clearly evident that this pretended dispersion, this retreat and hiddenness, destroy the glory of the cross of Our Lord. For, speaking to a schismatic who had rejoined the Church, he says:


"I rejoice with thee, and give thanks to Jesus Christ my God, in that thou hast turned back in good earnest from the heat of falsehood to that which is the sweetness and savour of the whole world. And say not like some do: Save me, O Lord, for there is now no saint (Ps. 11:1); whose impious voice makes vain the cross of Christ, subjects the Son of God to the devil, and understands that grief which the Saviour has poured out over sinners to be expressed concerning all men. But let it never be that God should die for nothing, the mighty one is bound and despoiled of all, the word of God is accomplished: ask of me, and I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession (Ps. 2:8). Where, I pray you, are those too religious, yea, rather too profane persons, who declare there are more synagogues than churches? How shall the cities of the devil be destroyed, and at last, that is, at the consummation of the world, how shall the idols be thrown down, if Our Lord has had no Church, or has had it only in Sardinia? Certainly he is become too indigent."

Yes, indeed, if Satan possess at the same time England, France, the East, the Indies, barbarous nations and every place - how would the trophies of the cross be collected and squeezed into one corner of the world. And what would this great man say of those who not only deny that it has been general and universal, but say that it was only in certain unknown persons, and will not specify one single little village where it was eighty years ago? Is not this greatly to bring down the glorious trophies of Our Lord?

The heavenly Father, for the great humiliation and annihilation which Our Lord had undergone on the tree of the cross, had made his name so glorious that all knees were to bow and bend in reverence of him; but these people do not thus value the cross or the actions of the Crucified, taking from this account all the generations of a thousand years. The Father had given him as his inheritance many nations, because he had delivered his soul to death (Is. 53:12), and had been reputed with malefactors and robbers; but these people make his inheritance narrow indeed, and so cut away his portion that hardly during a thousand years shall he have a few secret followers, yea, shall have had none at all!

For I address myself to you, O predecessors, who bear the name of Christian, and who have been in the true Church. Either you had the true faith or you had it not. If you had it not, O unhappy ones, you are damned; and if you had it why did you conceal it from others, why did you leave no memorials of it, why did you not set yourselves against impiety, idolatry? In no wise were you ignorant that God has recommended to each one his neighbor. Certainly with the heart we believe unto justice; but for salvation we must make confession of our faith (Rom. 10:10), and how could you say: I have believed, therefore have I spoken (Ps. 115:1)? O miserable again for having so excellent a talent and hiding it in the earth. If the case is so ye are in the exterior darkness; but if, on the contrary, O Luther, O Calvin, the true faith has always been published and continuously preached by all our predecessors, yourselves are miserable who have a quite opposite one, and who, to find some excuse for your wills and your fancies, accuse all the Fathers either of impiety if they have believed ill, or of treachery if they have kept silence.