The Continuity of the Catholic Church
Despite the force of such reasoning, certain critics insist that there was an historical collapse of the Church, which they call the great apostasy. By this is meant not merely a break in institutional continuity, but also the corruption of the Gospel by the Church and the loss of her God-given authority. It means, and this is emphasised especially, the loss of the Christian priesthood, the conclusion being that since the apostasy there have been and now are no validly ordained priests in the Catholic Church. When we inquire, quite reasonably, about when these misfortunes occurred and when we point out, as I have done, that at no period of time has the church disappeared, we are informed that the apostasy was one of gradual decline. This theory, if it can be called a theory, is taken so seriously that I digress for a few comments about it.
The reluctance of the critics to name a date for the collapse of the Church is readily understood. Obviously if the Church was taken from the world in one terrible and swift stroke from God, the fact and the date would be known to all mankind. The collapse of the divinely established religion would have been a most severe shock to all civilisation; it would have left historical records, precise and rich in details, as much so as those which are left by the ministry of Christ and the establishment of Christianity.
Thus to avoid assigning an impossible date and yet to persist in the allegation that the church apostatised, the critics refer to a gradual decline. But this, as I now point out, is as difficult to defend as is the other theory. The claim of a gradual decline pictures the Church as taking one downward step after another, moving by a staggered process further and further away from the original Gospel. This means, obviously, that none of the preliminary mistakes was fatal and that none could have destroyed the Church or her authority from God. Otherwise, there would be no excuse for the claim of a gradual decline. The worst of which the Church can be accused is that with each step the area of her faithfulness was narrowed.
If this theory has any merit whatever, it means that the alleged apostasy by the Church could not occur until the Gospel was completely corrupted; it could not occur so long as the Church continued to teach correctly even one doctrine of faith. Hence this question for the critics: Would they say that by now the Catholic Church has repudiated every part of the Gospel of Christ? If they reply in the negative, they admit that the wished-for apostasy has not yet taken place. If they reply in the affirmative, I ask when the fatal last step was taken. If it has occurred, why cannot the date be found?
Let me pursue this subject a bit further. The Church teaches the existence of God. Is that a false doctrine? The Church teaches the divine origin of the Ten Commandments. Is that false? The Church teaches the divinity of Christ, the divine origin of Christianity, the appointment of the Apostles, and the command that they evangelise the world. Are all these false? I have chosen doctrines which the critics cannot reject. They must acknowledge, therefore, that the Catholic Church has faithfully preserved a part of the Gospel. With that acknowledgement, the "gradual decline" theory loses all its force. With it goes, also, all substance of the alleged apostasy, about which the critics think and write so freely. It has not yet occurred.
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