Great Apostasy  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Great Apostasy is a term used by some religious groups to allege a general fallen state of traditional Christianity, or especially of Catholicism, magisterial Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, that it is supposedly not representative of the faith founded by Jesus and promulgated through his twelve Apostles: in short, that these churches have fallen into apostasy.



Most significant, Evangelical Christians not following the rites of Latin Catholic and Orthodox Christian denominations have formally taught that at some point in history, the original teachings and practices of the primitive or original Christian church were greatly altered. All of these denominations have considered their own teachings to be major corrections of the errors of the state of Christianity preceding them, and for this reason believe that their separated continuation, especially outside of the Catholic-Orthodox-Anglican traditions, is not only justifiable, but a necessary measure. These views are not necessarily taught in the modern descendant denominations; but historically this type of doctrinal stance accounts for the continuing separation of the denominations from the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox communions.

All of these groups differ in their perception of the types and the extent of errors evident in Catholic-Anglican-Orthodox traditions, and therefore their proposed corrections also differ, but all agree that the Catholic-Anglican-Orthodox tradition is to some important degree corrupted and apostate in the sense that it will not or cannot be reformed; to the extent other separated denominations contain these rejected traditions, they also are sometimes considered corrupt. This alleged corruption and resistance to reform by the traditional, especially Catholic, churches may sometimes be called The Great Apostasy by non-Catholics.

Some groups see themselves as uniquely restoring original Christianity. In their case, the term Great Apostasy is used more technically than above, directed in a sweeping way over all of Christianity beyond their group, indicating that true Christianity has not been preserved, but rather restored. These various groups differ as to exactly when the Great Apostasy took place and what the exact errors or changes were, but all of them make a similar claim that true Christianity was generally lost until it was disclosed again in themselves. The term Great Apostasy appears to have been coined in this narrower, technical sense, by "Restorationists". The term may sometimes be used in this sense by other groups claiming their unique authority as representing Christianity.

Reformed Perspective

Calvinists have taught that a gradual process of corruption was predicted in the New Testament, that this process began within the New Testament era itself, and culminated in a self-proclaimed corrective brought about by the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches had developed from early on the idea of infallibility of the Church — that the Church may speak entirely without error in particular councils or edicts; or that, in a less definable way, the Church is infallibly directed so that it always stands in the truth; and indeed, that the Church has the promise of Jesus that it shall do so. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church had also developed from early on the parallel and complementary idea of papal infallibility — that the pope may speak in the same capacity; this idea was finally defined dogmatically at the First Vatican Council of 1870. In contrast, Protestants claim that the Church has only spoken infallibly through the Scriptures since the time of the Apostles, and should not expect to be completely free of error at any time until the end of the world, and rather must remain continually vigilant to maintain a Biblical (and therefore authoritative) doctrine and faith, or else fall away from the Christian faith and become an enemy of the truth.

In the Reformed view of church history, the true church cannot declare itself infallible, but rather calls itself ecclesia semper reformanda ("the Church which must be always reformed"), the church that is always repenting of error. This Protestant view is that people are naturally inclined to elevate tradition to equality with the written testimony of the Bible, which is the word of God. The reforming churches believe that human weakness is naturally drawn to a form of false religion that is worldly, pompous, ritualistic, anthropomorphic, polytheistic, infected with magical thinking, and that values human accomplishment more highly or more practically than the work of God (divine grace) is valued. Given the chance, people will substitute the sort of religion they naturally prefer, over the Gospel, see also Cafeteria Christianity. The Hebrew Bible contains multiple episodes of backsliding by the very people who first received God's revelation; to the Protestant mind, this shows that teaching the Gospel is a straight and narrow path, one that requires that natural religion be held in check and that God's grace, holiness, and otherness be rigorously proclaimed.

Temptations of power

According to these Reformers, even as early as the Apostles a natural process of corruption began, and reached a crucial point of development when the Christian church was made the official religion of the Roman Empire by Theodosius I. From this point on, compromise of the truth deepened over time until the church became thoroughly worldly and corrupt, so that the true faith was first no longer openly taught, and instead suppressed, and at times persecuted, and cast out. The persecuted church was attractive to rejected people; but worldly men were attracted to the same church when it began to wield power and possessions. Protestants also believe that the Roman Emperors were not about to support a church that they did not control. The development of formal hierarchy within the Catholic Church, as opposed to local autonomy among Christian congregations, with levels of rank among the bishops, and a handful of patriarchs to supervise the bishops, is seen by some Protestants as conducive to imperial manipulation of the Church, susceptible to general control by capture of only a few seats of power.

Similarly, the defenses of the right belief and worship of the church resided in the bishops, and Protestants theorize that the process of unifying the doctrine of the Church also concentrated power into their own hands (see also Ignatius of Antioch, who advocated a powerful bishop), and made their office an instrument of power coveted by ambitious men. They charge that, through ambition and jealousy, the church has been at times, and not very subtly, subverted from carrying out its sacred aim. For the Reformers, the culmination of this gradual corruption was typified, in a concentrated way, in the office of the Pope, which they characterized in its final form as being an usurpatious throne of Satanic authority set up in pretense of ruling over the Kingdom of God.

The dangers of theology

Theological controversy also had a polluting effect, according to this view of Apostasy as a gradual process, rather than a cataclysmic event. That is, in the process of defending the received truth, the Church became sullied by the engagements with its opponents both outside and within the Church. Giving power to men as Bishops and Priest with forgiving power equal to Christ, the Church become so much like the Devil, desiring of power over the masses.

For example, the Church defeated paganism, but some argue that susceptible to incorporating attitudes and traditions which are foreign to the biblical faith. Or, for another case, in the process of overcoming Arius' religious hero-worship of Jesus, the church absorbed hero-worshipping ideas, so that, while the doctrine of Jesus was rescued from the heresy, the same idea continued in the veneration of the Saints, although veneration of the saints and marytyrs long predated the Arian heresy. Similarly for the early battles with Marcion and Valentinius and Montanus, perhaps even as early as Simon Magus, see also Early Christianity. This corruption was not necessarily intentional although, in some cases, it is suggested that teachers of error brought in these pollutions deceitfully in order to escape detection.

Compromise with folk religion

Especially in the worship of the Church, many Protestants viewed the Roman Catholic Mass as an amalgam of superstitious inventions more reminiscent of a pagan mystery rite rather than the simple discipline taught by the Apostles and practiced by the early church. A number of Protestant denominations tend to think of many of the Catholic holy days, and most of the rituals, as accommodations to the popular tastes of unconverted people through the centuries, incompatible with biblical faith. Natural tastes for pomp and ceremony, and the sort of natural belief in mana and fetishism that seem common in unrevealed religions, and the natural man's wish to have sacred places to pray in, and sacred objects that enable mortals to touch the divine, tempted people away from the truth of the absolute sovereignty, holiness, and otherness of God.

Verses used to support apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church

Although Lutherans and Calvinists hold that the Ecumenical Councils of the early and medieval church are true expressions of the Christian faith, many assert that the councils are at times inconsistent with one another, and err on particular points. The true Church, they argue, will be mixed with alien influences and false beliefs, which is necessary in order for these impurities ultimately to be overcome and the truth to be vindicated. The Westminster Confession of Faith (Calvinist), states:

The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a church on earth, to worship God according to his will. (25:5)

Therefore, although these groups believe that errors can and have come into the church, they deny that there has ever been a time when the truth was entirely lost. They affirm that there shall be times when errors shall predominate, as they believe is foretold in the Bible. First Timothy 4:1-3 states:

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. (KJV)

Acts 20:28-29

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. (KJV)

Even Jesus warned:

"Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come." Gospel of Matthew 24:10-14(NRSV)

According to this view, these verses foretold the rise of errors, among which they count the veneration of relics, saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, importing polytheism, idolatry, and fetishism into Christianity; these are the "seducing spirits and doctrines of devils."

The "forbidding to marry" and the "commanding to abstain from meats" (foods) were held to refer to the elaborate code, or Canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, involving priestly celibacy, Lent, and similar rules promulgated by the medieval church. Calvinists thought these rules were legalism and inappropriate impositions on the faithful.

"Speaking lies in hypocrisy" and "having their conscience seared with a hot iron" were held to refer to the general corruption of the Church as it became heir to the Roman Emperors and claimed to rule an earthly kingdom, and its prelates became authoritarian lords of civil government, achieving a social rank never sought by Jesus himself (see also Evangelical counsels and Template:Bibleverse). The "searing of the conscience" was interpreted as referring to the Roman Catholic development of casuistry that sought to justify these various acts, and to excuse the sins of the powerful in exchange for gifts of land and money.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 was held also to refer to a coming great apostasy. This text announces that the Second Coming of Jesus and the gathering of the church to him, cannot come:

unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

These were held to be prophecies of the Pope's claim to infallibility and to be the Vicar of Christ, sitting in Jesus' seat and in his stead. This interpretation is the source of the traditional identification of the Pope as Antichrist, which occurs throughout Protestant literature of the Reformation period and afterwards. Chapter XXV, article 6, of the Westminster Confession, a confessional statement issued in 1646 and important to the Presbyterian and other branches of the English-speaking Reformed churches, states that:

There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.

This article was abrogated in 1967 by the Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States. It remains officially in force in other Presbyterian denominations.

"Roman Catholic apostasy" doctrine supplanted by dispensationalism

Most mainstream Protestant churches have backed away from, or at least no longer emphasise this teaching, which is now felt to be divisive, and to belong to the more vehement quarrels of another day. Conservative and fundamentalist churches insisted on these teachings the longest, and some still do, especially among the stricter Calvinists and Fundamentalists. The rise of dispensationalism as a widely held doctrine among Protestant fundamentalists has resulted in a re-interpretation of the end times; and while they may continue to believe that the Roman Church errs, they are less likely to believe that the Pope is Antichrist.

Dispensationalists generally view passages such as 2 Thessalonians (referenced above) as referring to a reconstructed Temple in Jerusalem, see also Jerusalem in Christianity and Christian Zionism, in the last days. The great "Falling Away", they tend to view as a present or future affair, in which not only Rome but all of the world's religions join against the truth, for the sake of a false peace and prosperity.

For an extensive 18th century Protestant perspective on the Great Apostasy, see the treatment on that subject by the German historian J. L. Mosheim, a Lutheran, whose six volume work in Latin on Ecclesiastical History is referred to by some Protestants who emphasize a great apostasy.

The end result

In this view, it would be difficult to set a clear dividing line as to when the purported widespread Apostasy began. It was a gradual process of corruption, as venal and materialistic leaders came into the Church, in love with their own high office and authority. The Great Apostasy surely was complete, for purposes of the Reformers, when the Council of Trent emphatically rejected even a modified form of Protestant reformation for the Roman Catholic Church. The ultramontane tendencies of Rome continued to increase until at least the First Vatican Council, with its proclamation of both papal infallibility and papal absolutism, down to early twentieth century changes in Canon law that make it more clear today than it was in the past that the Pope is the absolute monarch of the Roman Catholic Church, answerable to no council, no other bishop, and indeed to no other man or woman.

The Second Vatican Council stated the Church as the pilgrim "people of God" and the collegiality of all the bishops "in communion" with the Pope.

It is also important to note that this view of the general Apostasy does not mean that the Gospel had lost its power to save, or that all Christians during this time were denied Heaven; rather, the Reformers characterized the papacy and the hierarchy of priests, as an usurpatious government pretending to rule over the kingdom of God. God's grace preserved the true teachings and the Bible intact despite the corruption of those who were supposed to be official spokesmen for Christendom.

Certain sects of Messianic Jews

Template:See also From a Messianic Jewish perspective, the falling away prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24:12 is caused by nothing less than lawlessness, that is, the falling away from the Torah - the Law of God, which according to 2 Thessalonians 2:7, this "Torahlessness" was a "secret power" "already at work" in the Apostle's day. The great falling away then finds its culmination in the last days with the arrival of the Man of Lawlessness (read as "Torahlessness"), who is welcomed with open arms by those in the Church (those who had "agape" love), who have been taught from earliest times to believe that the Torah is irrelevant, a burden, and no longer a standard in defining how a disciple of Jesus should live in imitation of Jesus - and thus by application and implication they find the Torah irrelevant and inapplicable in defining the "love" that "will grow cold" - thus falling to deception of the Man of "Torahlessness" and if not repented of, will be similarly judged for joining him in his rebellion to the Torah, the Law of God.

Restorationist perspective


The Anabaptists of the Protestant Reformation believe that the Church became corrupt when Constantine I ended the persecution of Christians with the Edict of Milan, and was not recovered until the Anabaptists came along. Other Reformers set other dates or time periods when the Church corrupted itself, making it necessary for them to leave the Roman Catholic Church in order to re-establish the true Church. Several groups, including some Baptists and Mennonites, believe that besides the Great Apostasy there has also always been a "little flock", a "narrow way" which struggled through persecution and remained faithful to the truth. For example, the Mennonites published a book called the Martyrs Mirror in 1660 that attempted to show that exclusive Believer's baptism was practiced and passed down in every century, and how those who held that belief were persecuted for it.

Some Anabaptist and Baptist groups have held that the Apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church was so complete as to nullify its claims to Christianity. Consequently, in these groups, repudiation of the ecumenical councils has followed, in a few minority cases engendering seventh day sabbatarianism and unitarianism, along with believers baptism and pacifism, and other anti-traditional views. Some of these views, more radical than other Protestants, were influential in the founding of the Restoration Movement and the Adventist churches in the United States in the nineteenth century and continue to be influential in the house church movement.

Christians in military service and political office

The fusion of church and state is a central theme of the Anabaptist view of the Great Apostasy, and of their consequent assertion during the Protestant Reformation that the churches of Catholic Europe needed not simply reform, but a radical re-establishment based on the Bible alone. In sympathy with this assessment, philosopher Jacques Ellul, in "Anarchy and Christianity", mentions a dramatic shift in AD 313, at the Council of Elvira. Christians who held public office were no longer cast out of the church entirely as apostates, but were only cast out so long as they held office. At the Synod of Arles in 314, Christian pacifism was totally reversed; the third canon excommunicated soldiers who refused military service, or who mutinied. The seventh canon of that same council allowed Christians to be state officials, as long as they did not take part in pagan acts. With this, Ellul sees the end of the original anti-statist, anti-militarist, anarchist Christianity. However, accounts of martyred Christian soldiers from the 100s, 200s and early 300s indicate that Christians were allowed to continue serving in the Roman army provided they did not sacrifice to the Roman gods, and that therefore the original church may not have been as anti-militarist as Ellul supposes. Ignatius of Antioch's letters from the 100s, the use of deacons in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul's Pastoral epistles describing deacons, elders and overseers suggest that the early church was not anarchist in the way it governed itself internally.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see also Mormon), the Great Apostasy started not long after Jesus' ascension and continued until Joseph Smith's First Vision in 1820. To Latter-day Saints, the Great Apostasy is marked by:

Beginning in the 1st century and continuing up to the 4th century A.D. the various emperors of the Roman Empire carried out occasional violent persecutions against Christians. Apostles, bishops, disciples and other leaders and followers of Jesus who would not compromise their faith were persecuted and martyred. The persecutions were so successful that near the end of the 3rd century under the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, monuments were erected memorializing the extinction of Christianity.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attests that all Priesthood leaders with authority to conduct and perpetuate church affairs were either martyred, taken from the earth, or began to teach impure doctrines, causing a break in the necessary Apostolic Succession. Latter-day Saints conclude that what survived was but a fragment of what Jesus had established: Christianity continued but not in its original form. Survivors of the persecutions were overly-influenced by various pagan philosophies either because they were not as well doctrinated in Jesus' teachings or they corrupted their Christian beliefs (willingly or by compulsion) by accepting non-Christian doctrines into their faith.

Latter-day Saints interpret various writings in the New Testament as an indication that even soon after Jesus' ascension the Apostles struggled to keep early Christians from distorting Jesus' teachings and to prevent the followers from dividing into different ideological groups. However, some of those who survived the persecutions took it upon themselves to speak for God, interpret, amend or add to his doctrines and ordinances, and carry out his work without proper authority. During this time, important doctrines and rites were lost or corrupted. Latter-day Saints point to the doctrine of the Trinity adopted at the Council of Nicaea as an example of how pagan philosophy corrupted Jesus' teachings. (Mormonism teaches that God, the Eternal Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are not one substance, but three separate and distinct beings forming one Godhead.) The Latter-day Saints reject the early ecumenical councils for what they see as misguided human attempts without divine assistance to decide matters of doctrine, substituting democratic debate or politics for prophetic revelation. The proceedings of such councils were evidence to them that the church was no longer led by revelation and divine authority. The "falling away" was thus inadvertent through the natural course of events and the loss of pure original Biblical teachings.

Thus, Latter-day Saints refer to the "restitution of all things" mentioned in Template:Bibleverse and claim that a restoration of all the original and primary doctrines and rites of Christianity was needed and happened via Joseph Smith, after many important contributions to the advance of Biblical knowledge among commoners by Reformers such as Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Roger Williams, and others. Latter-day Saints advise that other religions—Christian or otherwise—have a portion of the truth, though mingled with inaccuracies due to misinterpretations of some doctrines, such as the nature of the Godhead, how Adam and Eve's choice in the Garden of Eden and their fall advanced the Plan of salvation, the need for modern prophets, and the universal divine potential of mankind. They claim that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restoration of Jesus' original church, has the authentic Priesthood authority, and all doctrines and ordinances of the Gospel, fulfilling many of the prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi in the Old Testament. (See Ref.) They also maintain that many other religions, Christian and otherwise, advance many good causes and do much good among the people insofar as they are led by the light of Christ, "which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." (John 1:9)

The leading LDS work on the Great Apostasy is James E. Talmage's The Great Apostasy [1]. See also Apostasy from The Divine Church by James L. Barker. Also The World and the Prophets [2] by Hugh Nibley.


Most Adventist groups in the Millerite tradition hold similar beliefs about the Great Apostasy as other Restorationist types of Christian faith. Some of these, most notably the Seventh-day Adventist Church, retain a belief in the Trinity and therefore do not see the Council of Nicaea as an apostate council as judged on this issue of doctrine. However, they along with many other Millerites have traditionally held that the apostate church which teaches others to rest from their work on Sunday, instead of the original Friday Evening Sundown to Saturday Evening Sundown period, is not in keeping with Scripture.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Like many Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses strive to reflect Christianity as they believe it was practiced in the first century, the Apostolic Age. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and its precursor organization, Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, considers the Great Apostasy to have properly begun before the death of the last Apostle, along with the warning signs and precursors starting shortly after Jesus' ascension. Jehovah's Witnesses consider adoption of the Trinity--which they allege is based on a specious application of Greek Platonic and sophistical philosophy and is a violation of the Scriptural precepts set forth beginning in the Law of Moses—as a prime indicator of apostasy. Jehovah's Witnesses consider that the falling away from faithfulness was already complete before the Council of Nicaea, when the Nicene Creed was adopted, which then enshrined the Trinity doctrine as the central tenet of nominal "Christian" orthodoxy.

This group strictly abstains from political involvement and military service, for reasons similar to those cited by earlier Anabaptists, and they point to such entanglements as another aspect of apostasy, or the willful rebellion against God and rejecting his Word of truth. Jehovah's Witnesses also teach that Jesus' statements regarding his disciples being separate from the world at Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse, and Template:Bibleverse demonstrates that it is Jesus' intention that his disciples follow the pattern he set for them, as he said at Template:Bibleverse.

They cite Template:Bibleverse [see discussion above] as indicating that the apostasy prophesied by Jesus at Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse and Template:Bibleverse, as well as Template:Bibleverse (and others) had already began in the first century of the Common Era, prior to the formation of the Catholic Church as a religion separate and distinct from the true Christian faith as taught and practiced by Jesus and his first-century followers.


E. W. Bullinger framed the position for very early apostasy thus:

We are told, on every hand, today, that we must go back to the first three centuries to find the purity of faith and worship of the primitive church! But it is clear from this comparison of Acts xix.10 and 2 Tim.i.15, that we cannot go back...even to the apostle's own life-time!...It was Pauline truth and teaching from which all had "turned away"

Sedevacantist views

Sedevancantists believe that the Great Apostasy began at the time of the Second Vatican Council, or with the election of Pope John XXIII, or shortly thereafter. While contemporary Catholic theology classifies them as schismatic, most traditionalists maintain they are not.

Sedevacantists believe the differences between the Roman Catholic Church before and after Vatican II are essential in nature, and enough to regard the contemporary, official Catholic Church as not truly Catholic. They also point to the precipitous drop in church attendance that occurred after the new rite of the Mass was made mandatory in the Catholic Church, along with more liberal interpretations of Church doctrine which are considered heretical in some circles. [3]

Sedevacantists share the idea with some Protestants that the Catholic Church, as represented by the Vatican is in a fallen state and no longer truly Christian, and indeed they have attracted Protestant converts. However, they differ in that they accept the Church as it existed until Vatican II, usually until the death of Pope Pius XII and all his pronouncements regarding doctrine, faith, and morals, whereas some of the Protestants in question believe that the Catholic Church began to fall away with the rise of the Emperor Constantine, his legalization of Christianity, and its latter establishment as the state religion of the Roman Empire.

Responses of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church contend that they are still in harmony with the teachings and practices Jesus gave the Apostles, and that Jesus' promise has been fulfilled: "On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." And elsewhere, "I will be with you until the end of the age." Also, "The Father . . . will give you another Advocate to be with you always." And the passages of St. Paul describing the church as Christ's body and as the "pillar and bulwark of the truth." (1 Tim 3:15) They point to their apostolic succession (among other things) as evidence that they are maintaining authentic orthodox Christian teachings. They see claims of a complete and general apostasy as a denial of the promise that Jesus made (as recorded in scripture) to be with his Church "until the end of time". They also claim that their ecclesiastical structure and liturgical practices have their essential roots in the teachings and practices of the Apostles and early Christian community, and are not the result of radical changes introduced by either the imperial government or new converts in the fourth century. Many elements of modern orthodox teachings are traced back to the writings of those known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers. In these writings there is found information about the sacraments, organizational structure, and general Christian lifestyle. Protestants claim, however, that the Roman Catholic Church has added to the Deposit of Faith handed down by the Apostles, especially since the time of Reformation, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary and Papal Infallibility. In the view of Protestants, these are new doctrines and they take Roman Catholicism further from the Protestant understanding of Biblical Christianity. Roman Catholics counter that that the Dogmas of the Assumption and Immaculate Conception are well-supported in the writings of early Church Fathers (although some Protestants question the way Catholic theologians cite and interpret early Christian writings). Orthodox Churches also note that the Roman Catholic Church has added doctrines since the time of the East-West Schism, which justifies disunity between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. At the same time, both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy see much of Protestantism as having jettisoned much Christian teaching and practice wholesale, and having added much non-Christian dogma as well.

Catholic perspective

Protestants often assert that practices that seem especially strange to them, such as regular fasting, veneration of relics and icons, honoring the Virgin Mary (known as the Theotokos to the Orthodox and as Mother of God to Catholics), and observing special holy days, must have been introduced after the time of Constantine (or even introduced by Constantine as a way to lead the Church into paganism). Documents from the pre-Constantine church often show otherwise. Fasting is a biblical practice from even Old Testament times, and was mentioned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and reportedly practiced by him as well. Early Christian documents refer to the regular practice of fasting. For example, the Didache (or "Teaching of the Twelve") instructs Christians to fast every Wednesday and Friday, a practice the Orthodox Church continues to this day. Every feast day is preceded (or followed, as with Fat Tuesday followed by Ash Wednesday) by a fast as well, in part to avoid the excessive revelry of pagan feasting without moderation. The catacomb church was surrounded by relics of necessity, but accounts of early martyrdoms show that Christians regularly sought the remains of the martyrs for proper burial and veneration. (See the Martyrdom of Polycarp.) Many of these early accounts associate miracles with the relics: mentioned in Acts are Paul's handkerchiefs which healed the sick (Template:Bibleverse). The Infancy Gospel of James is attributed to James the Just but was certainly written no later than the second century; it lays out additional details of Mary's life. This "gospel" is viewed by the Orthodox Church as apocryphal, and beneficial as a teaching tool only. The practice of observing special holy days was borrowed from the Jews, who were commanded to observe such days by God. In the same way, other practices were borrowed from the Jewish liturgy as well, such as the use of incense and oil lamps. Template:See Regarding "forbidding to marry" and the "commanding to abstain from meats" in 1 Timothy 4, the Catholic Church responds:

"...Regarding the Church’s discipline of celibacy, men and women freely abstain from the high and holy good of marriage so that they can more fully give themselves to God and His work. Marriage is not “forbidden.” Neither is it considered evil. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Catechism), numbers 1618-20, especially the quote from St. John Chrysostom. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 needs to be read in context. There were those in Paul’s time that forbade marriage on heretical presuppositions that marriage was intrinsically evil, a teaching based in turn on the false belief that the body or all matter was evil, and only the Spirit was good. This Gnostic heresy became prevalent again in the second century. The heresy became manifest in later centuries as well, with groups like the Albigensians, who also fell away from the Catholic Faith...With regard to foods, none are forbidden to Catholics. Unlike vegetarians, we may eat meat; unlike Jews and Muslims, we may eat pork, shellfish, and other non-kosher foods. Fasting—a practice actively promoted in Scripture—and abstinence from certain foods at particular times are good spiritual disciplines, but there is no food from which Catholics must abstain at all times...So who is Paul condemning regarding abstinence? He is referring to Gnostics and their spiritual descendants. In ascetic Gnosticism, we find both practices Paul condemned in his First Letter to Timothy. Ascetic Gnostics categorically forbade marriage (which libertine Gnostics also did) and abstained from sexual intercourse and meat all the time."

Worldly ambitions

There have certainly been times when the Church has seemingly benefited from its affiliation with ruling governments, and vice versa. There are also times in its history when the Church has taken a doctrinal stance directly contrary to the interests of the State. The Council of Chalcedon introduced a religious schism that undermined the Byzantine Empire's unity. The Emperor called the following Ecumenical Council in an attempt to reach a compromise position that all parties could accept, urging those involved to do so. A compromise was not reached, and the schism persisted. Later emperors introduced policies of iconoclasm; yet many Christians and Church leaders resisted for decades, eventually triumphing when a later Empress (Irene) came to power who was sympathetic to their cause. In Russia, Basil, a "Fool for Christ" repeatedly stood up to Ivan the Terrible, denouncing his policies and calling him to repentance; for this and other reasons he was buried in the cathedral that now popularly bears his name in Moscow. The Greek Orthodox Church survived roughly 400 years under the Muslim Ottoman Empire, preserving its faith when it would have been socially advantageous to convert to Islam. More recently, in the twentieth century, the Russian Orthodox Church survived over 70 years of persecution under Communism, while Christians in many Muslim countries continue to refuse assimilation, in places including Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, and Iraq. Therefore, it would be more correct to say that there have been times when the State has seen that it was to its advantage to cooperate with the Church and to adjust accordingly, than to advocate the opposite position. More importantly, there is a consistency in Christian teaching, beginning with the persecuted church of its first few centuries, to the more established church of the Roman Empire, to the again persecuted church of the various Muslim and communist regimes.

Theological dangers

In response to the claim that the Church's response to one heresy led to an overcorrection in the opposite direction, it can only be admitted that this is always a real danger, and history provides abundant examples. One famous example is Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople who so vigorously defended Jesus' humanity that he undermined Jesus' divinity; see Nestorianism. Orthodoxy and Catholicism believe that the Church's leaders have on the whole navigated the centuries between opposing errors, on occasion providing subtle clarifications or restatements of earlier doctrines. Some Church fathers have suggested that the abundance and variety of early controversies were a blessing, in that they enabled the Church to deal with most or all of the major questions surrounding the Christian faith in a rather brief period. Protestants who ignore or attack the historic church's conclusions are at best bound to fight the same fights all over again, running the same risk of overcorrecting in response to current doctrinal disputes.

Compounding this risk of overcorrection is the growing propensity among Protestants to split into different denominations when serious disagreements arise. This risks having two groups, one or both of whom err in different directions, rather than a single group that adheres to the purported truth without deviating to any extremes. Some Protestant denominations avoid this more successfully than others. Of those that avoid further schism, many of these ignore doctrinal differences within their ranks and just play down the importance of the issue, which eventually leads to a greater variety of beliefs within the denomination. This variety, and toleration of greater and greater differences in belief, has resulted in further deviations from historic Christianity.

Natural or Popular Religion

Template:See also Many liturgical practices and beliefs are asserted to be adapted from pagan customs or human preferences, however in some cases they were carried over from Temple Judaism, which practices most Christians believe were first given to Moses and the high priests by God. The idea of setting aside specific places as holy, treating certain items used in the worship of God with reverence, all go back to the Hebrew Temple worship, and to the visions the Bible records of what worship in Heaven looks like, not just to pagan ideas about "mana." Many assert that Marianism is a holdover of goddess worship from Roman Pagan times. The Roman Catholic Mass or Orthodox Divine Liturgy in many respects more closely resembles the Temple sacrifice than anything modern Jews practice, since in Judaism there is no current Temple in Jerusalem, just the Temple Mount. In other cases, local customs have been deliberately adapted and imbued with Christian meaning in an effort to keep the Church incarnate and accessible to local Christians. For example, in many Orthodox Churches in Europe, there has grown a custom of blessing pussiwillows on Palm Sunday instead of palm branches, since palms do not grow that far north. When worship involves the use of the entire body, and all the senses, the Orthodox believe this becomes very helpful in learning to actively love God with all their "mind, soul, heart and strength" as God commands. Restricting worship to a mental exercise removes the "strength" element of loving God, assert some sources. Prohibiting the use of material, created objects in giving worship to the Creator, is to condemn all the sacrifices offered by the holy men and women recorded in the Old Testament and elsewhere. It also appears to reflect the subset of Gnostic beliefs that all material things of this world are inherently evil, or at best temporary, and that only invisible, spiritual thoughts and actions can draw us closer to God. The Church has always fought against this idea, beginning with its first and second century controversies with the Gnostics of that day. Instead it affirms that all creation was made good, and while it has since become corrupt, it is being redeemed by continually offering it back to God. The epitome of this action occurs in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which represents the offering of ourselves, all that we have, and the entire world back to God.

Again, while it is always difficult to discern which elements of culture are compatible with Christianity or can be redeemed and which must be abandoned, Protestants continue to grapple with the same issues today, especially in missions work when they attempt to bring the Gospel to cultures that have not heard it before.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Great Apostasy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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