Julian the Apostate presiding at a conference of sectarians, by Edward Armitage, 1875
The anti-Catholics preached that the Church founded by the Lord in the first century turned away from God after the death of the last apostle, St. John the Beloved. Because of that, they claimed that the false prophets had injected heretical and paganic doctrines into the true Church which made her cease to exist for over a thousand years until she was restored or re-established by a “prophet” in the end-times. But, is it true? To support their claim, they used biblical texts like Amos 8:11-14 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4.
In the book of the Prophet Amos, it reads:
“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.'” (Amos 8:11-14)
Here, Prophet Amos prophesied in Israel ca. 785 B.C. Among other things, he warned of the coming destruction that did, in fact, occur in 721 B.C. because of Israel’s idolatry (see chapters 6 and 7). However, this text does not speak of an apostasy to occur after the death of the last apostle in the New Testament but only in ancient Israel. Yet, such apostasy happened in Israel was not even total or complete. In the 9th chapter, Prophet Amos makes this very clear.
“‘Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground; except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,’ says the Lord. ‘For lo, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the ground. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, ‘Evil shall not overtake or meet us.’” (Amos 9:8-10)
The Old Testament salvation history records many times when priests and prophets were corrupt (cf. Lam. 4:13, Ez. 22:22-26, Zeph. 1:4, Mic. 3:5), when prophets had no vision from the Lord or prophesied falsely (cf. Lam. 2:14, Jer. 23:26-31), or when there were no prophets at all (cf. Ps. 74:9). Apostasies were frequent in the Old Testament, but never total. THERE WAS ALWAYS A FAITHFUL REMNANT.
Remember that in the Old Testament, there existed a high priest and God-ordained heirarchy, which was established and given authority by God Himself in order to guide the children of Israel. The high priest, or those to whom He delegated authority, had the power to deliver the oracle of God to His people. Below are the biblical texts to support such historical fact:
“If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case . . . which is too difficult for you, then you shall . . . go up to . . . the Levitical priests, and to the judge who is in office in those days, you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare . . . you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you . . . The man who acts presumptuously, by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge . . . shall die.” (Deuteronomy 17:8-12)
“Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the LORD. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD.” (Exodus 28:30)
Notice the gift of God to the priests of Israel, “the Urim and the Thummim”. Through it, the high priest would also hear the word of God and proclaim divine oracles from God. And this ministry of the high priest was alive and functioning even during the corrupt times and rebellion in Israel, as found in the book of Judges:
“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6)
Moreover, these anti-Catholics would also contend that even Israel did not complete apostatize, St. Paul prophesied that the New Testament church would fall into complete apostasy. In his letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul said:
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3)
Here, St. Paul used the Greek word “apostasia” in verse three—translated as “the rebellion”—to describe it. He declared this apostasy must first come before Jesus would come again. Yes, there was an apostasy, as to say, but, was it a total apostasy? Did St. Paul here speak of the complete rebellion of the Church against the true faith? Again, to emphasize, there was or will be an apostasy but never a complete one. In Israel, some Jews rejected the Son of God as the Messiah but other Jews who remained faithful like the Blessed Virgin Mary, the apostles and the earliest disciples. See? Apostasy happened but not complete. In the Church, there could be some who would turn away from the truth but not the entire assembly.
Why wouldn’t the holy Church fall into total apostasy?
BECAUSE THE CHURCH IS INDEFECTIBLE!
The Old Testament prophecies concerning the New Covenant and the then-future coming of the kingdom of God, the Church, describe it as perpetual and indefectible. In Daniel 7:13-14: “. . . behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man (Jesus), and he and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (see also Isaiah 9:6-7 and Daniel 2:44).
The New Testament also describes the Church as indefectible.
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age'” (Matthew 28:18-20).
“. . . and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33).
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”
Furthermore, St. Paul used explicit terms that eliminate the possibility of a total apostasy in his letter to the Ephesians. He described the Church as “[Christ’s] body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). This Church, he continued, is “built upon the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). Indeed, the apostle described the Church as being the instrument God has chosen so that “through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10). He then stressed that this Church must have apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, and teachers (cf. Ephesians 4:11). And why? “For the equipment of the saints . . . for building up the body of Christ . . . so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine . . .” (Ephesians 4:12-14).
According to St. Paul, God founded the Church so that all may know with certainty the truths of the faith. This is by no means the only reason for the existence of the Church, but it is a central reason. Why? Because the Church is the household of God, the pillar and bulwark of truth (cf 1 Timothy 3:15). But most importantly, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
TO HIM BE GLORY IN THE CHURCH AND IN CHRIST JESUS PASA TAS GENEAS (TO ALL GENERATIONS), FOREVER AND EVER.
See? The Church will exist, according to St. Paul, forever and ever, to all generations, not just to the apostolic times.
To counter-attack, the anti-Catholics would use the following biblical text:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
Again, apostasy is very much possible but not total. In the above text, St. Paul foretold that SOME would depart from the truth. To highlight, just SOME and NOT ALL. How would this happen? By devoting themselves to demonic teachings, id est, forbidding to marry and abstinence from food. And yet this really happened. Some fell away from the holy Church because of their heresies. See the following historical fact:
In the 2nd century, there existed an ascetic Christian sect called Encratites (self-controlled) who forbade to marry and counselled abstinence from meat. This heresy was authored by Tatian the Assyrian, an early Christian writer and theologian. Later on, this sect received new life and strength by the accession of Severus, after whom Encratites were then called Severians. These Severian Encratites accepted the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospels, but rejected the Book of the Acts and cursed St. Paul and his Epistles. In their hatred of marriage they declared woman the work of Satan, and in their hatred of intoxicants they called wine as drops of venom from the great Serpent.
Between 12th and 14th centuries, there existed the heresy of Catharism or Albigensianism, which was a Christian dualist movement that thrived in some areas of Southern Europe, particularly northern Italy and southern France. They believed in the existence of two gods or principles — one being good and the other evil. The good god was the God of the New Testament and the creator of the spiritual realm, as opposed to the bad god, whom many Cathars identified as Satan, creator of the physical world of the Old Testament. According to them, all visible matter, including the human body, was created by Satan; it was therefore tainted with sin. Because of that, they REJECTED MARRIAGE AND FORBADE EATING MEAT, based on their doctrine that the physical world, including the flesh, was irredeemably evil — as it stemmed from the evil principle or “demiurge”. Therefore, according to them, reproduction was a moral evil to be avoided — as it continued the chain of reincarnation and suffering in the material world.
But the holy Catholic Church untiringly condemned those heresies from the very beginning. She (the Church) fought them (the heretics) and was never defeated.
And there is only one way to avoid the apostasy — LISTEN TO THE CHURCH. That is the definitive commandment of the Lord:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you . . . If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:15-18).
St. Paul reminded the followers of Christ:
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
When the Lord speaks, “I am with you always until the end of times” (Matthew 28:20) — He will fulfill it because He is faithful even though we are not (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13).