Friday, January 20, 2012

When did the Catholic Church Apostatise?

Earlier this week, I was engaged in another interesting discussion – this time with a Protestant friend who claimed that the Catholic Church is apostate, and it all started going wrong from 325AD with the edict of Emperor Constantine when he declared Christianity as the State religion. From that time forward, he claims, the Church became more and more nominal until it ultimately became so debased that it ultimately became apostate i.e. it rejected the truth of the Gospel for superstitions, lies, and heresies.

This is not an uncommon argument from Protestants, who claim that with the edict of Constantine, the Church fell away from the truth taught by the Apostles; and that this state of apostasy prevailed until the Church was rescued by men like Martin Luther during the time of the Protestant Reformation.

If this view is correct, then it means that the Church was in a state of apostasy for almost 1200 years before Martin Luther came on the scene; and it ends up making a liar of Jesus who said that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church into ALL truth (Jn 16:13).

This lie would be compounded by the fact that Jesus said the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church (Matt 16:18); whereas, according to their claim, the Church that Christ founded ended up being apostate for about three quarters of the time that had elapsed between Christ’s founding of the Church and the time of Protestant Reformation.

Now we know that God cannot lie, so this position held by many Protestant falls flat on this point alone.

However, to further prove how untenable their position is, it must be remembered that significant points of orthodox theology were officially declared only AFTER Constantine’s edict e.g. Arianism (rejected in 325AD); the New Testament Canon (declared after 325AD); Pelagianism (rejected in 416AD); Nestorianism (rejected in 430AD); Monophysitism (rejected in 451AD); Monothelitism (rejected in 680AD) – to name just a few.

Such monumentally important theological decisions could never have been upheld correctly by a Church that had become apostate; unless, the Church was divinely protected by God from teaching error on these points – which is exactly what the Catholic Church has held all along i.e. the Catholic Church can never become apostate because she is led, and always has been led, by the Holy Spirit ever since she was established by the Lord Jesus Christ.

In addition, we can see that their position is even less tenable when examined in light of the Church Fathers before 325AD. I have provided several quotes from the Church Fathers below which clearly show that they held doctrines which are unreservedly Catholic – the same doctrines which Protestants often claim only crept in AFTER 325AD once the Church had “slipped into apostasy”.

The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist:

“They [people with heterodox opinions] abstain from the Eucharist...because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again.” – St Ignatius of Antioch, AD110

“We call this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration, and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Saviour was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too...the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.” – St. Justin Martyr, AD128
[Please also notice the reference to baptismal regeneration].

The Eucharist as Sacrifice:

“He [Jesus] took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, “This is My Body”. The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His Blood. He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant of which Malachi prophesied [Mal 1:10-11]. By these words He makes it plain that the former people [Israel] will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to Him, and indeed, a pure one.” – St. Irenaeus, AD180

“Also in the priest Melchisedek we see the Sacrament of the Sacrifice of the Lord prefigured...when He offered sacrifice to God the Father, He offered the very same which Melchisedek had offered, namely bread and wine, which is in fact His Body and Blood!” – St. Cyprian, AD252

The Primacy of Rome:

“But since it would be too long to enumerate the succession [from the Apostles] of all churches, we shall here point out the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organised at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul....For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her [the Church of Rome] that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition.” – St. Irenaeus, AD180
[In the very next verses, St. Irenaeus lists the Apostolic Succession of Rome from St. Peter onwards...the same succession which leads to Pope Benedict XVI today.]

Apostolic Succession:

“But what is his error, and how great his blindness...who does not remain on the foundation of the one Church which was founded upon the rock by Christ, can be learned from this, which Christ said to Peter alone: “Whatever think you shall bind...[Matt 16:19];” and by this: “Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive any man his sins, they shall be forgiven...[Jn 20:22-23]. Therefore the power of forgiving sins was given to the Apostles and to the Churches which these men, sent by Christ, established; and to the bishops who succeeded them by being ordained in their place.” – Firmillian of Caesarea, AD255

[Also note the reference to the forgiveness of sins, as well as the inference of the primacy of St. Peter and his successors].

Infallibility of the Church (i.e. the Church cannot teach doctrinal error):

“For the Lord received anointing on His head in order that He might breathe incorruptibility on the Church. Do not be anointed with the evil odour of the teachings of the prince of this world...” – St. Ignatius, AD110

“Grant, then, that all have erred [as Protestants suggest]; that the Apostle was mistaken in bearing witness; that the Holy Spirit had no such consideration for any one Church as to lead it into truth, although He was sent for that purpose by Christ, who had asked the Father to make Him the Teacher of truth; that the Steward of God and Vicar of Christ neglected his office, and permitted the Churches for a time to understand otherwise and to believe otherwise than He Himself had preached through the Apostles: now, is it likely that so many and such great Churches should have gone astray into a unity of faith?” – Tertullian, AD200

And just for icing on the cake, here’s a couple on prayers for those who have died:

“We offer sacrifices [talking about the Eucharist] for the dead on anniversary of their death.” – Tertullian, AD211

“A woman, after the death of her husband...prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice.” – Tertullian again.

The above quotes are just the tip of the iceberg from the Church Fathers. The more we read the Fathers, the more we will see that what they were taught by the Apostles, and what they were martyred for, was nothing less than the True Faith which the Catholic Church continues to hold to this day.
One final point, in respect of the accusation of nominalism that crept in after 325AD...

Whilst it may be true that more Christians were becoming nominal after 325AD, this does not disprove the validity of the Catholic Church. To paraphrase what Fr. Barron said in a recent
video: Finding sin and abuse in the 2,000 year history of the Catholic Church is like shooting fish in a barrel. It really isn’t difficult. After all, the Church is filled with sinners...and sinners sin.

Additionally, we also need to remember that as nominal, and oftentimes wicked, as Old Testament Israel was, she was still considered the people of God.
In fact, if we are talking about the Protestant Reformation, a Scriptural equivalent to Martin Luther would arguably have been King Jeroboam who ended up severing the Northern Kingdom from Israel and subsequently changed the way that the Northern Kingdom believed and worshipped (sounds very much like what happened in the Protestant Reformation). As a result, Jereboam became responsible for leading the people further away from God.
However, the difference between Old Covenant Israel and the New Covenant Church is that God promised that, under the New Covenant, His people would never again fall away in apostasy (contrary to what Protestants may claim happened following 325AD). [For more on this, see the blog I posted recently which touches on this very topic.]
In summary, it seems quite evident that Protestants either have to admit that the Church was never apostate – the doctrines post 325AD were very much the same as pre 325AD (albeit that they had developed, as theology does); or they have to amend their position and hold that the Church became apostate well before 325AD, and even within the first century – making Jesus Christ an even bigger liar than mentioned above. Surely we should be able to see that there is only one viable option...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Purgatory and the New Covenant

This blog is inspired by a conversation I had with a friend recently. He mentioned that non-Catholics sometimes bring up Jer 31:34 (and it’s counter-quote in Heb 8:12) when trying to refute the doctrine of Purgatory. Personally, I have never come across this exact argument, but I have come across similar arguments. So, I thought that it would be a good opportunity to blog on the topic.
The verse that is raised says:
“...for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
Based on this verse the argument basically claims that Purgatory goes against the Bible because in Purgatory there is a “remembering of sins”.
There may be a few ways to refute this “anti-Purgatory” argument, but really the argument fails on two basic levels:
1) Firstly, Jer 31:31-34 must be read in context. The book of Jeremiah was originally intended for the remnant of Israel (i.e. the Southern Kingdom of Judah). Just like the Northern Kingdom had gone into exile under the Assyrians because they were unfaithful to God; now God was about to do the same to the Southern Kingdom because they had broken His covenant (particularly by the sins of idolatry and false worship). The prophecy was fulfilled when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, destroyed Solomon’s Temple, and led the people into captivity.
So, what does this have to do with Jeremiah’s words in Jer 31:31ff? Basically, Jeremiah is saying that because Judah had been unfaithful by not remembering God’s covenant, He was about to impose the covenant curses upon them by “remembering their sins” and sending them into exile (Jer 31:32). In exile they would be free to worship the false gods that they had forsaken the true God for (cp Ezek 20:32).
But Jeremiah’s words are not all doom and gloom. Part of God’s message to His people is that there is hope. In His rich mercy, God does not completely forsake His people. Instead He makes the promise of a New Covenant (Jer 31:31ff) which would by far surpass the Old Covenant. And part of what would make the New Covenant better than the Old was that under the New Covenant, God’s people would no longer break covenant with Him because He would inscribe His law on their hearts (v33).
The New Covenant came into effect with the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and was formally instituted on the night before His death when, in the Eucharist, He gave His Body and Blood to His Twelve Apostles (as representatives of the New Twelve Tribes of Israel). And so it is that the Church, built upon the foundation of the Apostles, is the New Covenant people that Jeremiah was talking about. And what Jeremiah is saying in Jer 31:31-34 is that the New Covenant Church would never break covenant with God again by virtue of the fact that His law would be inscribed on their hearts (which St. Paul tells us is the work of the Holy Spirit e.g. 2 Cor 3:3). In this way, God would never have to “remember the sins” of His people again. Our Lord Jesus said the same thing but in different words when He said that He would send His Spirit to guide the Church into all the truth (Jn 16:12); and elsewhere that the Gates of Hell would never prevail against His Church (Matt 16:18).
2) Secondly, in light of the above, the argument fails because Purgatory is not for individuals who have broken covenant with God (e.g. through mortal sin); rather, the Catechism tells us that Purgatory is for those who “die in God’s grace and friendship” but are still not completely or perfectly purified. So, whilst we haven’t broken covenant with God, there may still be venial sins that haven’t been confessed (or that we aren’t even aware of – because sins of ignorance are still sins despite the fact that culpability is lessened).
In addition, there is also the issue of making reparation for our sins. Forgiveness of sins is one thing, but reparation is still necessary. For example, if someone confessed to me that they had stolen $20 out of my wallet, I would gladly forgive them, but justice requires that they would still need to make amends by restoring the $20 to me. The forgiveness precedes the restoration of the money, but it doesn’t negate it. In this sense Purgatory is also about making reparation for sins which have been confessed and forgiven, but complete reparation has not yet been made.
If we acknowledge that God is so completely holy that He cannot look upon sin, then it follows that it is necessary to have some form of purgation after we die to cleanse us completely from sins that haven’t yet been confessed before our death and/or to make reparation for the demands of God’s righteous justice where we haven’t sufficiently done so whilst alive on earth.
Purgatory is thus a complete purification so that we “may attain the beatific vision of God”. Even C.S. Lewis, an Anglican theologian widely renowned by Protestants of all denominations, believed in Purgatory saying that any Christian who had a right understanding of the holiness and justice of God, and our own unworthiness because of our sin, would gladly welcome the doctrine of Purgatory as a preparation and purification so that we could enter the Most Holy Presence of God.  

In summary, an anti-Purgatory argument based on Jer 31:31-34 and Heb 8:12 does not stand because it misrepresents what the Catholic Church ACTUALLY teaches about Purgatory, and it also fails to take into context what Jeremiah was actually saying.
On the contrary, Jer 31:31ff actually proves to be one of the many passages of Sacred Scripture which affirms that the Catholic Church is the true Church which will NEVER fall because it is the New Covenant Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And, unlike Israel of old, the New Israel of God will especially never break covenant with God by idolatry and false worship (despite what Protestants have to say about Catholic worship and devotion).
So let us thank God for His Holy Catholic Church which has stood through the ages by His good grace; and let us never cease to praise Him for the wonderful gift of gathering us into this Glorious Body of Christ so that He can continue to pour His grace into our lives by means of the Sacraments.