St. Francis de Sales On The Invisible Church
When I was in college, Keith Green came out with his Catholic Chronicles*. They were a poorly researched and horribly distorted diatribe against Catholicism. Sadly, many of us read them as if they were the Gospel. In the 16th century, our favorite Saint distributed the original "Catholic Chronicles" to bring fallen-away Catholics back to the Church. Just like our brother Keith Green, he had a "home grown operation" and didn't charge for his tracts! It has been estimated that Keith's ministry sent out over 60,000 free albums to anyone who asked. It has also been estimated that St. Francis was able to win back over 60,000 fallen-away Catholics during his short term mission to the Protestant area of Chablais. Both men were around the same age (late 20's) during their most effective ministry years.
St. Francis de Sales continues in his Catholic Controversy tracts to explain how the Church is the infallible guide for our faith. He brings up an excellent point which is: how can an invisible church be an infallible guide? He also points out how the construct of the "invisible church" is not consistent with Old and New Testament imagery of the Church. It is interesting that just a mere 80 years after the reformation, the "Remnant theory" was being proposed. To reject the authority of the one Universal (Catholic) Church at this point in history, you would have to invent the remnant theory, otherwise you would be saying Christ failed in his mission and the gates of Hell did prevail . Let's see what St. Francis has to say to his readers regarding the "invisible true church" operating in secret:
"All that our adversaries can say is that this infallibility is only true of the invisible Church. But they arrive at this their opinion of the invisibility of the Church by two roads; for some say it is invisible because it consists only of persons elect and predestinate: the others attribute this invisibility to the rareness and scattering of the believers and faithful. Of these the first consider the Church to be invisible at all times, the others say that this invisibility has lasted about a thousand years, more or less; that is, from S. Gregory to Luther, during which time the papal authority was peaceably established among Christians for they say that during this time there were some true Christians in secret, who did not manifest their intentions, and were satisfied with thus serving God in concealment. This theology is imagination and guesswork; so that others have preferred to say, that during those thousand years the Church was neither visible nor invisible, but altogether effaced and suffocated by impiety and idolatry. Permit me, I beseech you, to say the truth freely; all these words are the incoherencies of fever, they are but dreams had while awake, and not worth the dream Nabuchodonosor had while asleep. And they are entirely contrary to it if we believe Daniel's interpretation (Dan. ii); for Nabuchodonosor saw a stone cut out of a mountain without hands which went rolling till it overthrew the great statue, and so increased that having become a mountain it filled the whole earth: this Daniel understood of the Kingdom of Our Lord, which shall last for ever. If it be as a mountain, and a mountain so large as to fill the whole earth, how shall it be invisible or secret? And if it last for ever, how shall it have failed a thousand years? And it is certainly of the Kingdom of the Church militant that this passage is to be understood; for that of the triumphant will fill heaven, not earth only, and will not arise during the time of the other Kingdoms, as Daniel's interpretation says, but after the consummation of the world. Add to this that to be cut from the mountain without hands, belongs to the temporal generation of Our Lord, according to which he has been conceived in the womb of the Virgin, and engendered of her own substance without work of man, by the sole benediction of the Holy Ghost. Either then Daniel has badly prophesied, or the adversaries of the Catholic Church have done so when they have said the Church was invisible, hidden and destroyed. In God's name have patience; we will go in order and briefly, while showing the vanity of those opinions. But we must, before all things, say what the Church is."
* Keith Green never had the opportunity to finish his chronicles but his last line written was this:
I can't imagine the conversations Keith Green and St. Francis are having now.