The Fourth Mark of the Church: Apostolic
An explanation of the ninth article of The Apostles' Creed,
from, The Catechism Explained
by Saint Anthony Mary Claret
When we say, "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church," we are not speaking of the material church, the place in which we faithful unite to pay God that tribute of love, honor, and attention which we owe to Him, and which is called religion. In this sense "church" means temple, house of God, or house of prayer.
But by those words of the Creed, we affirm belief in the Church as the society or congregation of the faithful, united by the profession of one and the same Faith, united also by participation in the same Sacraments, and by submission to the legitimate prelates, principally to the Roman Pontiff.
Marks of the true Church
Thus it is that it was necessary for God to form Her in such a way that everyone could recognize Her, and that nobody could confuse Her with the synagogue of Satan, the mother of all reprobates.
To this end, He built Her first upon the great mountain of holiness, virtues, and merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And, seeing that His enemies would also pretend to come from Him and take His name, in order that even the unlearned would be able to distinguish Her from the pretended and false variety of Christians, He marked Her with four signs so clear that only a willfully blind man would mistake Her. These signs are: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic; I shall proceed to explain them briefly. [...]
(Fourth Mark): Apostolic
The fourth note or mark of the Church is to be Apostolic. That is to say, it was founded by the Apostles and is governed by their successors, the bishops, who since the Apostles, have succeeded without interruption. And these bishops have a lawful mission to guard always, in their teaching and management of the Church, the unity of Faith and of communion with their head and center, the Roman Pontiff.
Listen well, my son, to what Jesus Christ said to the Apostles upon entrusting to them the foundation and government of His Church till the end of the world: "Going therefore teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world"(Matt. 28:19-20).
All of us know that the Apostles fulfilled the mission that Jesus Christ gave them. And it is sufficient to read the list of the Catholic bishops, especially of the Supreme Pontiffs of Rome as the continuing Head or principal leader of Christianity - better said, of Catholicism - in order to see that Pius IX, who by the mercy of God happily governs us, have succeeded Gregory XVI, and he Pius VIII. And so, ascending from one to the other, we shall arrive at Saint Peter, who was made by Jesus Christ the Prince of the Apostles and His Vicar on earth.
You will notice above that with the word mission I added the word lawful, that is, coming from that one who has the keys of the kingdom of heaven or of the Church, who is the Pope. Therefore the intruder bishops, or those who have separated themselves from obedience to the Roman Pontiff, are not successors of the Apostles. Rather, they are thieves, as Jesus Christ calls them, and we must flee from them as the sheep flee from the wolves.
If, then, any heretics come to you, my son, saying that their churches are also Apostolic, there is nothing more to say to them than what Tertullian said: "Prove the origin of your churches. Make us see that the order of your bishops has in some way through succession descended from the beginning, that the first was any of the Apostles, or had as a predecessor some of the Apostolic men who had persevered together with the Apostles."
Inasmuch as the heretical sects will never be able to show this, so it is that none of them can reasonably glory in being Apostolic. But on the other hand, since the Catholic Church is the only one that is able to trace Her origin to the Apostles, it follows from what I have said that She alone is in all truth Apostolic.
Here you have explained for you, my son, the four marks which I told you God left us in order that we may know the true Church. By these we cannot confuse Her with the many synagogues of Satan, which also pretend to be the Church of God. We can see that none are in peace or unity except ours. Furthermore, we can conclude that ours is the only truth, in which and with which we must live and die united in order to be able to go to heaven.