William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

The Marks of a True Church

by Francis Turretin

Twelfth question; the marks of the church - Is the truth of
doctrine which is held in any assembly, or its conformity with the
word of God by the pure preaching and profession of the word, and
the lawful administration and use of the sacraments, a mark of the
true visible church? We affirm against the Romanists.

I. After having treated of the nature, properties and adjuncts of
the church, the order demands that we discuss its marks. This
question pertains to its external state and is of the highest
importance in religion. For since salvation cannot be obtained
except in communion with the true church and many glory in this
sacred name who are destitute of its truth, it is of great value to
know its true marks that we may be able to distinguish the true fold
of Christ from the dens of wolves; and the genuine society of pious
Christians (to whose communion we are called) from the conventicles
of heretics, which must be shunned by us; also that thus we may know
what that assembly is to which it is necessary that we should join
ourselves that we may obtain salvation. And because the question can
be twofold (the first concerning the true marks, which are asserted
by us; the other concerning the false and adulterous which are
obtruded by the Romanists), we will discuss each separately and now
treat of the first.

II. By marks, however, are commonly understood certain external
signs striking the senses by which we arrive at the knowledge of a
hidden thing, which are called by the Greeks gnorismata. Now these
are either only probable and verisimilar (which are called eikota),
of which this is the naturethat they in some measure designate by a
probable but least necessary reason a thing; to wit, those which are
drawn from external and accidental adjuncts which clothe and attend
the thing itself. Others are necessary and essential (which are
called tekmeria, which indicate the thing investigated certainly and
infallibly: as smoke, fire; respiration, life; because they are
taken from the essence of the thing or from its inseparable
properties). Now we do not here treat of marks of the first order,
but of the latter.

III. For the truth of a mark, various persons require various
things. Some require that it be essential, not accidental; proper
and not common; certain, clear and sensible, not doubtful and
unevident. Others (as Bellarmine) require that it be proper,
somewhat known and inseparable. We think only two are required, to
which the others are easily referredthat it be proper and that it
be somewhat known. For if it is proper, it is also necessary,
essential and inseparable; if somewhat known, it is evident and

IV. (1) As the church can-be viewed either as to internal and
mystical state and as invisible, or as to external state and as
visible and instituted, it can be disputed in different ways about
its marks. Either inasmuch as it is invisible for recognizing the
true elect and believers, in which sense it has for marks faith,
hope and love put on by efficacious calling, from which each one is
certain of his own calling (2 Pet. 1:10) and by which he renders it
at least probably certain to others (Mt. 5:16; Jam. 2:18). But we do
not treat of these marks here. Or inasmuch as it is visible and
according to the form of collection and external union. Thus
concerning its marks, it is inquired what are the marks and
characters by which the true visible church (to which believers
ought to join themselves for salvation) can be known.

V. (2) The question does not concern the marks of the Christian
church in general; for the profession of Christianity sufficiently
distinguishes this from the heathen and other unbelievers. But it is
treated in particular of the marks of a particular visible church
that we may distinguish an orthodox and purer church from a
heterodox and heretical; so that this being found wanting, we may
betake ourselves to the communion of that. Thus a twofold
confederation of Christians must be distinguished here. One general,
founded upon the profession of Christianity and contained in the
Apostles' Creed and baptism as marks of Christianity, which indeed
can suffice to constitute a baptized Christian, but certainly not to
the obtaining of salvation; since it is often exposed to various
fundamental errors, in faith as well as in worship. The other
special, in a communion which has the purity of the word and the
sacraments, mingled with no heresy and idolatry, in which salvation
can be obtained (concerning which we properly treat here). Not in
what manner a society of Christians can be distinguished from an
assembly of pagans, Turks and other unbelievers; but how of the
various assemblies which profess the name of Christ, the true and
orthodox can be distinguished from the false and heretical, which
are unworthy of the name of the true church.

VI. Now although in assigning the marks of the true church, a
certain diversity in words occurs among the orthodox, still they
agree in the thing itself. For whether it is called one alone (to
wit, the truth of doctrine and conformity with the word of God) or
many (to wit, the pure preaching of the word with the lawful
administration of the sacraments, to which some add the exercise of
discipline and holiness of life or obedience given to the word), it
is all the same thing. For where the truth obtains publicly, there
also love and holiness nourish in their own way; nor can the pure
word of God be preached anywhere without the sacraments being also
administered lawfully in the same place and the discipline
prescribed in the word of God being observed and thriving, since
these two flow from the word of God and are appendages of it.
VII. Further we must observe about these marks: (1) That there are
different degrees of necessity and some are more necessary than
others. In the first degree of necessity is the pure preaching and
profession of the word, since without it the church cannot exist.
But the administration of the sacraments does not have an equal
degree of necessity which so depends upon the former that it may
nevertheless be wanting for a time (as was the case with the
Israelite church in the desert, which was without circumcision). The
same is the case with discipline, which pertains to the defense of
the church, but which, being removed or corrupted, the church is not
immediately taken away. (2) There is a certain latitude of these
marks as they admit various degrees of puritynow more perfect, then
more imperfect, as they more or less approach to the rule of
Scripture (hence they argue a church either purer or impurer. But
not on this account is this latitude to be extended so far as that
fundamental errors should be tolerated, but only faults and lighter
errors. As therefore that society cannot retain the name of a true
church which cherishes capital errors overturning the foundation of
salvation, so it does not straightway lose the name of a true
church which impinges anywhere upon doctrine. And although it can no
longer be called a pure church, still it does not cease to be a true
church. Hay and stubble do not immediately take away the dignity of
a church from any assembly, provided it is not built upon them as a
foundation, according to the rule of the apostle (1 Cor. 3:12). (3)
The church can be viewed either as constituted or as to be
constituted; either in a pure and uncorrupted state or in an impure
and partly corrupt state. The question is here instituted
concerning its markswith respect to the former and not the latter
state. (4) The opinion of the church is not to be estimated from the
private opinions of rulers and bishops who, seized with a frenzy for
disputes, often pass over to steep places, which nevertheless are
either not understood or are not approved by the church. Rather the
opinion of the church is to be estimated from the doctrine and
practice publicly received and retained.

VIII. Since the truth and conformity of doctrine with the word of
God or the sincere preaching and observance of the gospel are said
to be the proper marks for distinguishing the church, others are not
excluded, but included. For whether or not you attend to the voice
of God, it is the word; or the faith of men, it is about the word;
or life and obedience, it is the fruit of the word; or good order
(eutaxian), it is from the word; or the sacraments, they are seals
and appendages of the word, and the word visible. And thus wherever
we turn our eyes, the divine word is a true criterion (feriterion)
of the church, which on that account is said to be a standard,
scepter, light, rule and balance by whose polar star and rule all
things must be examined. However, a mark can be spoken of in two
ways: either with respect to the efficient cause (to wit, God, who
uses it to sealing the true church); or with respect to the
receiving subject (when received by the hearers it brings forth the
fruits of faith and piety, from which it is known).

IX. It is proved that this is a true and essential mark of the
church. (1) From Scripture, which by this sign distinguishes true
Christians as members of the church from false: "My sheep hear my
voice and follow me" (Jn. 10:27). Here Christ proves that the
unbelieving Jews are not of his fold (i.e., do not belong to the
true church) because they do not hear the voice of the shepherd.
"Ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you" (this reason being
added), because "my sheep hear my voice" (v. 27). As therefore they
who do not hear the voice of Christ are not of his fold, so on the
opposite, they who hear and follow him truly belong to it and are
members of him. However, what is the case with individuals, the
same ought to be the case with the whole church, which is gathered
together from individuals. Nor ought it to be objected here: (a)
"that the mark of the sheep is set forth, not of the church, and it
is taught who are the elect, and not where the church is." Both are
necessarily contained here. For the sheep of Christ cannot be known
or who the elect are without the church being known from this very
thing (which consists of sheep and the elect) and where it is. For
if the church is a flock of sheep and the sheep are no other than
they who hear the voice of Christ, wherever the voice of Christ is
heard, there the sheep of Christ (and so the true church) must
necessarily be. (b) "It cannot be a sensible mark because that
hearing, to be true, ought to be of the heart, not of the body."
That hearing ought so to be made with the heart that it should also
exert itself outwardly, both by external docility and a profession
of the word and by a real obedience to a following of Christ. Now
although this docility with respect to others does not produce an
infallible certainty, but only a moral certainty from the judgment
of charity (because it cannot make us certain of its sincerity),
still it forms an indubitable argument both with respect to
individuals (because he who is persuaded that he hears the voice of
Christ, by that very thing knows that he is a disciple of Christ and
a member of the church); and with respect to the whole assembly
(because where the voice of Christ sounds and is heard, there the
true church cannot but be).

X. (2) To the same belongs what Christ says, "If ye continue in my
word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth,
and the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:31, 32); "He that is of
God heareth God's words" (v. 47); "If a man love me, he will keep my
words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and
make our abode with him" (Jn. 14:23). Here the keeping of the word
of Christ and his precepts is set forth as a mark of his true
disciples and as the means of obtaining his presence in the midst of
them. However, where Christ dwells with the Father, there it cannot
be denied that the true church is, since it is his house and temple.
This is confirmed from Mt. 18:20, where Christ promises his presence
in the midst of those who are gathered together in his name. For
since the saving presence of Christ has place in the true church
alone and it is promised to those who are gathered together in the
name of Christ (i.e., who assemble by his authority to preach and
hear his word), that is undoubtedly the true church where believers
come together in the name of Christ. Nor can it be said that "it is
demonstrated from this passage where Christ is, but not where the
church is." Christ cannot be found without his church also being
found (in which he dwells and which is his body, which cannot be
separated from him).

XI. (3) The same thing is proved from Acts 2:42, where the mark of
the apostolic church is set forth by a perseverance in the doctrine
of the apostles, by communion and the breaking of bread. "The
disciples continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and
fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Thus the
pious exercises of the primitive church are pointed out, which are
so many marks of it, by which the church of Christ was distinguished
a posteriori from the Jewish synagogue and other assemblies of
unbelievers. However, three things are mentioned as the principal:
preaching and hearing of the word, prayers and the partaking of the
Lord's Supper (described synecdochically by "the breaking of bread,"
as in Acts 20:7). And thus "fellowship and breaking" (koinonia kai
te Uosei) is put by hendiadys for "fellowship of breaking"
(fcoinonia te5 klaseos} (as in Virgil, "we make a libation with
bowls and gold," Georgics 2.192 [Loeb, 1:128-29], i.e., with golden
bowls). As therefore the apostolic church was discerned by these
signs (gnorismasi), by the same it ought to be known at this day.
Therefore wherever the doctrine of the apostles and the legitimate
use of the sacraments and of prayers are, there the true church of
Christ certainly is.

XII. (4) Because there ought to be some method for distinguishing a
true church from a false, as for distinguishing a false church from
a true, and false prophets from true teachers. Now this is no other
than falsity of doctrine and its disagreement with the word of God
(Is. 8:20; Dt. 13:1, 2; Lk. 16:29). Hence, Christ (speaking of the
false prophets) says, "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Mt.
7:16); not only as to morals and life, but especially as to doctrine
(as is gathered from Lk. 6:45). And John wishes the spirits (i.e.,
the teachers) to be tried, whether they are of God (1 Jn. 4:1). If
you seek the rule of trying, he brings it forward in the following
verses from the truth of doctrine: "Hereby know ye the Spirit of
God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the
flesh is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus
Christ is come in the flesh is not of God" (vv. 2, 3). And more
clearly in the second epistle, "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth
not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the
doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son" (2 Jn. 9);
"If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive
him not into your house" (2 Jn. 10). Paul confirms this when he
denounces an anathema upon him who wished to preach another gospel
than what had been preached: "If I, or an angel from heaven, preach
any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you,
let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8). He not only wishes to be rejected
whatever would be foreign to the gospel, but that an anathema should
be denounced upon him who should dare to introduce it into the midst
of them, whoever he might be, whether an apostle on earth or even an
angel from heaven (by whom after Christ nothing more illustrious and
more to be revered can be granted). Thus Paul excludes the most
specious marks of authority and the greatest miracles which can be
obtruded (such as the descent of an angel from heaven). Now if the
presence of an angel or the authority of an apostle cannot secure
faith from us (if it is opposed to the gospel), how much more
ineffectual will that authority be which a local or personal
succession can conciliate, since such successors cannot be reckoned
greater than the apostles? Again, if the apostles wished the
doctrine of the gospel to be the rule by which true or false
teachers are known, how much more today when nothing infallible
remains to us except the Scriptures?

XIII. (5) Because what always belongs to the church alone and as a
whole ought to be an essential and specific mark of it, by which it
is discerned from all these assemblies, not only of unbelievers, but
also of heretics. And yet the truth of doctrine, which shines forth
in the preaching of the word and administration of the sacraments,
is such. For the church alone is the house of God, the pillar and
ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Alone, built upon the foundation
of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:19, 20); alone has the seal of
the covenant (Mt. 28:20; 26:28; Acts 2:42; Gen. 17); alone possesses
the word and by it is distinguished from other assemblies (Ps.
147:19; Dt. 4:6). Nor do these privileges belong to it for a time,
but always and forever even unto the consummation of ages (Eph.
4:11, 12). Thus it is well gathered hence, that where the preaching
of the word and the administration of the sacraments are, there the
church is; and in turn, where the church is, there is the preaching
of the word and the administration of the sacraments.

XIV. (6) That by which the visible church is constituted,
congregated and conserved, so that, it being posited, the church is
posited, it being removed, the church is removed, that also is its
proper and essential mark. For no mark is more certain than that
which is drawn from its cause and inseparable property. Now such is
the preached and received word (1 Cor. 4:15; Eph. 2:19, 20; 5:26; 1
Pet. 1:23; Jam. 1:18; Mt. 28:19, 20), which constitutes, conserves
and nourishes the church so that, it being posited, the church is
posited, and it being removed, the church is removed. Hence the
removal of the candlestick or the ministry of the word draws after
it the destruction of the church (Rev. 2:5); and the ceasing of
prophecy implies the scattering of the people: "Where there is no
vision, the people perish" (Prov. 29:18).

XV. (7) The fathers agree with us. Tertullian: "That must
undoubtedly be retained which the church received from the
apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God"
(Prescription Against Heretics 21 [ANF 3:252; PL 2.33]). And
speaking of heretics: "Their very doctrine compared with the
apostolic from its diversity and contrariety will pronounce that
neither was an apostle its author, nor an apostolic person" (ibid.,
32 [ANF 3:258; PL 2.45]). And he introduces the church speaking
thus: "I am the heir of the apostles; as they provided in their
will, as they committed it to faith, so I hold it" (ibid., 37 [ANF
3:261; PL 2.51]). And afterwards: "Whence, however, are heretics
extraneous and enemies to the apostles unless from diversity of
doctrine, which each one according to his will either brings forward
or receives against the apostles?" (ibid.). Chrysostom says, "A
Gentile comes and says, I wish to become a Christian, but I know not
to whom to join myself. There are among you many contentions,
seditions and tumults, I know not what dogma to select, what to
prefer. Individuals say, I speak the truth, I know not which to
believe, since I am ignorant of the Scriptures, and they cover over
both the same, indeed this is much for us. For if we should say we
believe reasons, deservedly would you be disturbed; but since we
receive the Scriptures, these are simple and true, it would be easy
for you to judgeif anyone agrees with them, he is a Christian, if
anyone fights against them, he is far from this rule" ("Homily 33,"
Acts of the Apostles [NPNF1,11:210-11; PG 60.243-44]). "Where faith
is, there is the church; where faith is not, there the church is
not" (Chrysostom, "Homilia sexta," Opus imperfectum: eruditi
commentarii in evangelium Matthaei [PG 56.673]). "When heresy, which
is the army of Antichrist, obtains, there is no proof of the church,
except only by the Scriptures" (Chrysostom, "Homilia 49*," Opus
imperfectum in Matthaeum [PG 56.908-9]). The author of the
commentary on the Psalms under the name of Jerome on Psalm 133: "The
church does not consist in walls, but in the truth of doctrines. The
church is there, where true faith is. But fifteen or twenty years
before, all these walls of the churches here held heretics. The
church, however, was there, where true faith was" (Breviarium in
Psalmos [PL 26.1296] on Ps. 133). Ambrose: "The faith therefore of
a church especially is commanded to be sought, in which if Christ is
a dweller, it is undoubtedly to be chosen, but if the people are
faithless or a heretical teacher deforms the dwelling, the communion
of heretics is to be avoided, it is to be considered a synagogue to
be shunned" (Expositions in LMcam 6.68 [PL 15.1772] on Lk. 9:5).
Augustine: "Let us not hear, I say this, you say that; but let us
hear, the Lord says this. There are indeed Dominical books, in whose
authority we both agree, we both believe, we both observe. There let
us seek the church; there let us decide our cause" (Contra
Donatistas: De Unitate Ecclesiae 3.5 [PL 43.394]). "I have the most
manifest voice of my pastor commending to me, and without any
hesitation setting forth the church, I will impute it to myself, if
I shall wish to be seduced by the words of men and to wander from
his flock, which is the church itself, since he specially admonished
me saying, my sheep hear my voice and follow me; listen to his voice
clear and open and heard; who does not follow him, how will he dare
to call himself his sheep?" (ibid., II*.28 [PL 43.410]). "To
salvation itself and eternal life no one comes, except him who has
the Head, Christ. No one, however, could have the Head, Christ,
except him who was in his body, which is the church, which we ought
to recognize as the head itself in the sacred canonical Scriptures;
not to seek it in the various rumors and opinions of men, and in
their deeds and words. Let them demonstrate their church if they
can, not in the discourses and rumors of Africans, not in the
councils of their bishops, not in the writings of any disputants,
not in deceitful signs and wonders. But in the prescription of the
law, in the predictions of the prophets, in the singing of Psalms,
in the words of the shepherd himself, in the preaching of the
evangelists, i.e., in all the canonical authorities of the sacred
books" (ibid,, 18* .47 [PL 43.427-28]). "The question between us and
the Donatists is, where is the church? What, therefore, are we to
do? Are we to seek it in our words or in the words of its Head, our
Lord Jesus Christ? I think we ought the rather to seek it in the
words of him who is the truth and best knows his own body" (ibid.,
2.2 [PL 43.392]). Many such things proving our point are to be found
in the same place which we omit for the sake of brevity. "In the
Scriptures we have learned Christ, in the Scriptures we have learned
the church, we have these Scriptures in common, why shall we not
retain both Christ and the church in them?" (Letter 105, "To the
Donatists" [FC 18:206; PL 33.401]). Vincent of Lerins, as Sixtus
Senensis observes, lays down the authority of the Scriptures as the
first rule of discerning a true church from a heretical church
(Bibliotheca sancta 6, annot. 104 [1575 ], 2:153).

XVI. (8) Not a few Romanists are on our side here. Bellarmine places
holiness of doctrine among the marks of the church and defines it
"by a profession of the same Christian faith and participation of
the same sacraments" ("De Ecclesia Militante," 3.2 Opera [1857],
2:75). Elsewhere, he concedes, "When the Scripture is received and
speaks clearly, and the question about the church arises, then the
church can be judged from the Scriptures as better known" ("De Notis
Ecclesia," 4.2* Opera [1857], 2:108). Thus, while he answers to the
dicta of Augustine (in which he affirms that the church ought to be
demonstrated from the Scriptures), he confesses that "the
Scriptures teach, what are the marks of the church" ("De Notis
Ecclesia," 4.2 Opera [1857], 2:108). Hence no less evidently than
necessarily, it follows that the Scripture is not only a mark of the
church, but also the principal and primary of all marks, since from
it and by it its remaining marks are known. Driedo: "The church is
to be known and sought from the Scriptures" ("De ecclesiasticis
scripturis et dogmatibus," 4.4 Opera [1572], 1:239). Cassander
acknowledges that "the marks of the church are the doctrine of the
gospel and the use of the sacraments" ("De Articularis
Religionisconsultatio," Art. 7 in Gerogii CassandriOpera [1616],
p. 927). Stapleton says, "The preaching of the gospel is the proper
and very prominent mark of the Catholic church" ("De Principiis
Fidei," 1.22 Opera [1620], 1:25). He also grants that "the church of
Christ is known to the wise and spiritual by sound doctrine and the
right use of the sacraments" ("Relectionis Principiorum Fidei," I,
Q. 4, Art. 5 Opera [1620], 1:577). Gregory de Valentia says, "We
confess that the church of Christ can be without neither truth of
doctrine, nor the legitimate use of the sacraments and of those with
whom these are altogether retained, the true church consists"
(Commentariorwn theologicorum, Disp. I, Q. 1, Punct. 7.18
[1603-1609], 3:148). Others also confess the same thing.

XVII. It is one thing to ascribe the marks of the church falsely to
themselves and to boast of them; another to, possess them truly.
That is of fact; this is of right. The false boasting of heretics
claiming the marks for their assembly ought not to prejudice the
certain persuasion of believers because we must judge of marks not
from the dreams of the sick or the opinion of the proud, but from
the truth of the thing. No more can it be said that our marks are
not proper, but common because heretics (even schismatics) ascribe
them to themselves: (1) than if one should say the covenant of God
is common to the rescinded and cut off Jews with the Christians
because they boast of it; or that the justice of a cause belongs as
well to the plaintiff as to the defendant because both claim it. (2)
Ad hominem for the same reason, the marks of the Romanists will have
to be rejected because not a few besides them ascribe them to
themselves (as antiquity, unity, holiness of doctrine and other
things of this kind). (3) Nay, no marks of anything in the world can
be granted which some impudent and mendacious sophist will not claim
for himself. Who is ignorant that the Devil wishes to hold himself
as God; that the prince of darkness transforms himself into an angel
of light, Antichrist, to arrogate to himself the name of Christ; and
the harlot, to conceal herself under the habit of a matron.

XVIII. It is one thing to know who are the elect singly; another to
know where they are and in what assembly they may be found. Our
marks do not go so far as to manifest the former to us, but only the
latter (which is sufficient that we may ascertain to what assembly
we ought to join ourselves). As in the state, it is not necessary to
know distinctly and certainly who are true and faithful citizens,
who obey the laws heartily; it is sufficient for us to know what is
the republic in which such laws flourish.

XIX. Although the pure preaching of the word does not always prevail
in the church, it does not follow that this mark is separable from
the church and that it is therefore falsely said to be a mark. That
purity ought to be understood with a certain latitude, nor does the
church at once cease when the purity ceases according to some
degrees, provided it does not cease altogether. Purity ought to be
in fundamentals in order that it may be a true church, although in
other respects various errors can obtain in it from which it could
contract various degrees of impurity (which although they take away
from it the name of a pure church, still they do not remove the name
of a true church, as long as the foundation remains safe and
unimpaired). The pure preaching of the word and the purity of the
church walk hand in hand. If the former is in every part pure and
free from error, the latter also will be pure; but if the church
begins to be corrupt it does not at once cease to be a true church
until the foundation is assailed.

XX. Although the dispensation of the word and sacraments are good
and gifts to the church, still they are no less its marks since the
one is not opposed to the other: as in earthly things, possession
and use of these is the mark of a transferred ownership, nor
moreover does it cease to be a fruit or a good. Thus the word is a
mark of the covenant made by God with the church (as its authentic
instrument, sealed with the seals of the sacraments, from the lawful
dispensation of which the richest fruits redound to the possessors).
XXI. Better known by nature is one thing; better known by us is
another. Scripture is better known by nature than the church because
it is the principle and foundation of the church. Hence it cannot be
certainly and infallibly known except from the Scripture. The church
is better known than the Scripture by us with a confused and
inchoate knowledge because it is the means and instrument which
leads us to the Scripture and which draws it to us. Thus the
Scripture and the church give each other mutual help; but the
authority belongs to the Scripture and the ministry to the church.
The church shows the Scripture by her ministry and a posteriori, as
the effect the cause and a light the candlestick; the Scripture
shows the church by her authority and a priori, as the cause the

XXII. To no purpose does Perronius cavil when he objects that
"doctrine cannot be a mark of the church, neither that which is not
controverted because all agree concerning it, and thus it is not a
mark of distinction, but rather of union; nor the controverted
because it is undecided, nor can a decision be made except by the
church." Answer: (1) we do not say simply that doctrine is a mark of
the church, but inasmuch as it is conformed to the Scripture (the
principle received among Christians). If there were no rule for
deciding controversies or it was so obscure that it could hardly and
not even hardly be known, I confess that a doctrine controverted
could not be a mark. But we have a canon in the word according to
which the pious can be easily taught concerning the truth of its
conformity with the rule. (2) Doctrine not controverted (such as
the Lord's sermon, the law and the Apostles' Creed) can decide a
controverted doctrine if it agrees with or differs from it. Thus the
affirmative articles concerning which we agree are the rule of the
negative concerning which we dispute, as the right is the index of
itself and of the wrong. For if Christ is our Mediator and Advocate,
on that very account he ought to be the only one because he is
impatient of an associate. If the sacrifice of the cross of Christ
is a propitiation (hilastikon), there can be no room for another; If
Christ is the head of the church, therefore there cannot be a pope
because they are incompatible (asystata) with each other. (3) If
because an adversary raises a controversy, a certain mark ceases to
be a mark, all the marks brought forward by our opponents would be
in danger because they can be controverted.

XXIII. No better is his supposition that conclusions concerning
faith and infallible decisions cannot be made except by an
infallible means which can be neither human reasoning (which is
fallible) nor private inspiration (which can often be fallacious)
but only the authority of the church (which God has given to us as
an infallible interpreter). (1) The infallibility of the object or
of the doctrines is falsely confounded with the infallibility of
the subject or the human intellect. Doctrines have an absolute
infallibility, but the human intellect has properly no infallibility
(although it has its own certainty in working, which does not
deceive). Nor is it necessary that what is fallible in its own
nature, always actually deceives; otherwise there would be no
certainty of knowledge (which nevertheless there is). There is no
need, therefore, that the means which lead us to the knowledge of an
infallible doctrine should at once be infallible. It suffices that
it be such as (rightly employed) does not deceive. Thus the human
mind (not alone, but enlightened by the Holy Spirit) can be such a
means by which the truth can be distinguished from error. In this
sense, Paul says the spiritual man judges all things (1 Cor. 2:15)
and John says that the anointing teaches us all things (1 Jn. 2:27).
Thus there is no need for a believer to be subjected to any
ecclesiastical tribunal to know the doctrine, since there is no
apostle (nay, not even an angel and much less any pope or council)
who is not subject to that examination, according to the oracle of
Paul (Gal. 1:8). Nor if fanatics falsely boast of their
inspirations, does it follow that the believer cannot be certainly
persuaded of his inspiration; as the wise man does not cease to know
certainly that he is sound in mind and reasons well, although an
insane man claims the same for himself. (2) The cardinal falsely
confounds the internal means and organs of knowledge with the
external object when he compares together reasoning, inspiration
and the authority of the church. For reasoning and inspiration are
the internal means and organs by which we arrive at a knowledge of
the truth; but the authority of the church is the external means
which has the relation of the object which proposes it. Now if the
two former means are fallible, they will be equally so as much with
respect to the church as to the Scripture; nor can they err less in
receiving the decisions of councils than in judging the doctrines of

XXIV. It cannot be said that the simple crowd and rustics are not
capable of examining doctrine and so need other sensible marks which
are better suited to their comprehension. It is treated here not of
any doctrine whatsoever and of all the questions which can be
agitated about it, but only of the doctrine necessary to salvation,
in which the essence of faith consists (which stands out
perspicuously in the Scriptures and can be perceived by any
believer). Otherwise, in vain would the psalmist say the law of God
makes wise the simple (Ps. 19:7*) and Paul say that Timothy from a
child had known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make him wise
unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), and that "the spiritual man discemeth
all things" (1 Cor. 2:15). Nor is it less difficult for the simple
people to ascertain the marks of the church which are brought
forward by the Romanists and to assent to their truth than to make
an examination of doctrine (as will be proved hereafter).

XXV. Although it is not necessary that a mark should be the
essential form of the thing or its specific difference, still it
does not hinder it from being a mark; nay, no more certain mark can
be granted, since form gives being to a thing. Nor is it an obstacle
that the forms and differences of things for the most part lie
concealed. The mark, however, ought to be sensible and external.
For natural and bodily things which strike the senses and whose
marks consequently ought to be external and sensible differ from
spiritual and moral, which fall under the intellect. Now such is
the church (about which we inquire), which has its own moral and
spiritual being, because it is not regarded here simply as an
assembly of men united with each other by external acts of religion,
but by true faith in Christ and a sincere administration of the
sacraments. This truth of faith and purity of divine worship,
however, is discerned only in the intellect through a comparison of
the doctrine with the word.

XXVI. When the church is shown by doctrine, no more is the same
declared by the same than when the thing defined is explained by the
definition. For although the definition agrees with the thing
defined (nor differs really from it), still it is clearer and
plainer than the thing which makes known: as when I say, man is an
animal endowed with reason; a grammarian is one who knows or teaches
grammar. Nor can it be called a begging of the question, because a
thing is explained by its form and difference.

XXVII. Although an infidel and heretic can come to a confused and
obscure knowledge of the church sooner than to the knowledge of
doctrine, still never could he be certainly and infallibly persuaded
of the truth of the church and of its purity and impurity, unless
the purity or impurity of doctrine on which the church is founded
was first known. Material knowledge is of the sense and does not
produce demonstration, but no formal knowledge can be given unless
the form is known and it is proved that this form is in this

XXVIII. A mark is either regarded in itself and in the abstract or
in the concrete inasmuch as it is applied to any subject; as the
seal of a prince is either attended to in itself and with respect
to its own nature and the use to which it is destined, or with
respect to the application which is made to letters, or to the
things which ought to be sealed. In the former sense, the mark of
the church is in Scripture because this is the rule, canon and
standard of all truth. In the latter, this mark is the impress of
the church by profession of doctrine and a practice of divine
worship conformed to the Scripture. When it is asked concerning the
mark of the church (inasmuch as it can be distinguished from other
societies), it is not understood in the former, but in the latter
sense, by reason of its conformity with the word.

XXIX. From what has been said, it is evident that truth of doctrine
or conformity with the word of God is the true and genuine mark of
the true church in thesi. Afterwards also it is not difficult to
gather in hypothesi what is that true church to which we are bound
to join ourselves in order to obtain salvation. Whether it is the
modem Roman church, which retains so many capital errors and
idolatries altogether (dis dia pason) opposed to the word of God in
faith and worship; or, on the other hand, ours, which is content
with the word of God alone. But concerning these more must be said


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