In response to my previous article How to do Marian Apologetics, a Protestant readers responded with the following in red, and below that is my rejoinder. Enjoy!
“Was God not with Israel when it fell into idolatry/apostasy?I think (1) God can be with and guide something while (2) that thing can still revolt against him or not listen to him….I do realize that the incarnation of the Son signifies God’s presence with his people in a very special way that was previously unprecedented. Hence “Emmanuel”. But what was the purpose of this special presence? Was it to give them super correct knowledge? Well, in a personal sense, yes. I’d say in a philosophical sense, no. Was the purpose to keep everyone united and one? In a vertical sense, yes, bc they’re all one in Him. In a horizontal sense, no, bc He even expected this would not be possible when he prayed that we might be one. What was the purpose of this special presence then? It was to “take away the sins of His people”. The book gives it away right at the start, just as Isaiah does. Did he fulfill THAT mission? Yes, he did.”
Thanks for continuing this conversation. However, I will have to push-back a bit here. By saying that the “special presence” of Christ is merely to “take away sins” is to reduce Christ far beyond what He Himself is willing to go. For example, we only receive the forgiveness of our sins through the “knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:24). Therefore, contingent upon our Lord’s remitting sins is his opening of the eyes of the blind to understand the truth, and since we know, per Ephesians 4:7-16, that through His majestic ascension into Heaven, He poured down gifts unto men in order to “fill all things“, and this, by the instrumentality of ordained men as the secondary means of achieving this end, you cannot remove from the success of our Lord’s mission the existence of perpetual teachers who are, in one way or another, protected from obliterating the truth with error.
There is a sad tendency to reduce our Lord these days. Our Lord spoke to St. Thomas saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). As Fr. Vincent Joseph McNabb wonderfully explained in his paper Infallibility, there is, to some, the idea that our Lord can nevertheless be only one of these. There are those who say that He is only “Truth”, and set out merely to say that being a disciple of Christ consists only in believing a set of doctrinal truths that are floating in the air of subjective discovery, and these decry any notion of a mandated “Way” or “Life”. There are those who say He is only “Way”, in which, they decry the mandate of “Truth” or “Life”, and extract only a moral code from our Lord. “Leave doctrine and worship to the theologians!”, they say. Then there are those who say Christ is only “Life”, and pretend to enjoy the certainty of eternal heaven without any hint of there being a required doctrinal or moral code. But, in fact, our Lord is all three in one, and the Church which He instituted has to be all three as well. The early fathers of the Church were not aimlessly guessing when they said that the four marks of the Church are unicity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity. Without these marks, the Church of Christ is not what He promised her to be.
There are reasons why your reasoning should be given no consideration, let alone be thought correct. Let me list 5 of them:
(1) The Israel of history was was destined to be the light of the world, the seed from which would flow inter-national blessing, the teacher of the gentiles, a light to the nations, and, ultimately, destroy the head of the Serpent. However, the Israel of History is one of a great beginning, with sad endings. The curses of the covenant came crashing down, and it would take picking up God’s promise from the down-trodden state which characterized the post-exilic and inter-testamental period in order to retain any hope. The prophets, however, pick up on Israel’s failure and speak of a coming era where , contrary to Israel’s departure from the Lord, where God Himself would break into the world in a special way through the Holy Spirit and the making of a new Israel which will be a “light to the nations” , and to the “gentiles”, and that a Temple would be built which is staged in what is characteristic of the new Eden. Side by side with this is the promise of a New David who will judge righteously, rule the nations with a rod of iron, and shepherd God’s people to clean waters and fresh grass. Characteristic of the “times of the Messiah”, or this “Annointed one”, is what Isaiah describes: “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9). This is all contrasted with the failure of the Israel of History. Where sin abounded by the Law, which is the strength of Israel’s sin (1 Cor 15:56), grace abounds by the Messiah who brings better things. Therefore, for you to say that Israel’s fall and stumbling while retaining the longsuffering patience of God (Rom 3:25-26) is an example of what has happened in the history of Christ’s body is overtly off-kilter from the divine record itself, and would call it all into question.
(2) As I already alluded, part of this New Era (i.e. the Church of God, or the Israel of God) is the fact that the Truth will not be injured as it was under the Old establishment. The new Temple will not be destroyed by the gates of Hell, in other words. We know that the integrity of the Temple is upheld by the safeguarding of the truth pure and undefiled by the words and promise of our Lord. Not only did our Lord foretell the perpetual safeguarding of His gospel unto the end of time, but He prepared for it. He said, “this gospel will be preached to all nations…and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14), and “repentance for the remission of sins will be preached to all nations…Behold, I send the promise of My father upon you..tarry in Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:47-49), and “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, and Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), and “Go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them everything I have commanded you…and I will be with you always even to the end of the earth” (Matt 28:18-20), and “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16), and “He who hears you , hears me”, and “If he does not listen to the Church, let him be unto you a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt 18), and “When the Helper comes, He will lead you into all truth”. Therefore, our Lord’s mission as the Isaianic Servant was handed onto the Apostolic and missionary institution he founded with the 12 disciples, and its success turns or falls on whether these 12 disciples and their successors continue to teach and preach what He Himself taught and preached unadulterated.We know that this promise outlives the Apostles, since he said His revelation would be witnessed not just in the lands where the Apostles planted and watered, but “to the ends of the earth”. So your comparing Israel’s failure as God’s Seed to bring inter-national blessing is an indirect indictment that our Lord’s words were false, and therefore He would not be God, and He deserves none of our worship.
(3) The suppose apostasy which you claim occurred with the Catholic Church began right from the get-go. As I have written in my website, doctrines which are today described as “demonic” and from the “evil one” were already upheld and defended in the public preaching of the earliest Church. Aside from being able to prove from Holy Scripture that Catholic doctrine and practice is true, we have the unanimous testimony of the Apostolic fathers and the Patristic men. For example, St Ignatius of Antioch already bears witness to the *divine founding* of the three-fold ministry of one single Bishop, his presbyters, the deacons, and the altar at which he attends in prayer and sacrifice. Just this alone would send the entirety of Protestant ecclesiality into question (save, perhaps, the high Church Anglican communion, as I would hate to disrespect Lightfoot, Gore, Dix, and Cirlot). Another example would be the the Patristic consensus that there is, in fact, one visible society unto which membership is required for salvation. Another example would be the Eucharistic doctrine, which includes not only the real presence of Christ in both blood, body, divinity, and soul, but also the presence of His propitiatory sacrifice. There is also the practice of praying to the Saints for intercession, which is testified by the universal liturgy of east and west from earliest times. We can go on and on. However, my point here is clear, namely, that this supposed apostasy that you claim occurred began right away, and thus your position is even that much more off kilter with the preparation and promises that our Lord described. Add to this a major philosophical problem. In order to know the truth by objective standard, you have to actually know that objective standard. So, when you set out to chart the beginnings of the apostasy, you must, at the same time, be able to chart where the authentic truth was prior. But because of my reasoning shared above, i.e. this apostasy began from the get-go, you have no knowledge of authentic beginnings. And all the more so because the New Testament is a compilation of the apostate Church.
(4) You point to Israel’s apostasy as a paradigm of the Church’s apostasy. However, Israel’s history shows clearly when they were walking a straight line and when they were not. In other words, the criteria for faithfulness and unfaithfulness are clearly manifested to any reader of the Old Testament. For example, what young readers cannot see that the LORD gave clear instructions, laws, and teachings to Israel to which Israel more or less, obviously far more “less”, kept. There were clear and thorough blessings announced for obedience to the moral and ceremonial laws, and there were just as clear curses announced for disobedience. And we can read the historical books to know how this panned out. There were some kings who were righteous, under whom Israel was blessed. For example, when God established David as King, we know that Israel was not totally blackened with exillic apostasy. How much less when He actually came and abode in the Solomonic temple? Moreover, when God called Israel back through the prophets, it was not a call to return to anything but what was made clear in the public revelation of Israel, and it was not always to heresy that Israel turned. Where am I going with this? What I am saying is this – We can see the ups and downs of Israel, but for a Protestant with the accusations you launch, there is no criteria with which to judge any “up” during the last 2000 years, since it is altogether apostate. It is all “down”. But you don’t have any criteria to even judge what “down” means. What further am I saying? What hope does a Protestant have, given what I have said in (3), as a method to return to authentic origins? If, as you consult us, the apostasy was from the get-go, and if the very Scriptures are compiled by the apostate church, then to what do you turn to in order to bring restoration? In other words, as you throw the lighter onto the gasoline-covered Catholic Church, you have two feet firmly planted in the very puddle that you poured, thereby engulfing you and the Catholic Church in the fury of flames. There is no way for you to return to Christ and his unadulterated teachings. This is the conclusion that one of the most clever Protestants realized, Sebastian Franck, who began as a Lutheran, but thought real hard on the implications of the Reform, and became a sort of quasi-Anabaptist Quaker.
(5) If there was a way to judge the ups and downs of the Church throughout history, and let’s say you were to concede there were ups, what conditions existed to make the “up”? Anytime the history of the Church includes what, by any reasonable mind, remarkable traits of heroic virtue, such as martyrdom, monasticism, the institution of hospitals, the burning charity offered in alms, etc,etc….to what code of doctrine did they assimilate? Was it not the Catholic? Did they not believe in the holy Creed? The Sacraments? The veneration of relics and saints? The propitiatory nature of the Church’s altar? The indivisible unity of the visible church? The primacy and authority of the Apostolic See? How then, given the unmistakable mark of obedience to Christ during these conditions, can this be characterized as “times of apostasy”? Therefore, even if there are eras within the New Era which are marked by heresy and moral decay, it could only be remedied through a return to that doctrine and faithfulness which are marked by the Church’s golden moments. And if we can say that the golden moments of the Church are what we described, we are still given a far more Catholic way of doctrine and spiritual practice than we are anything remotely close to the Protestant.