I am recounting the several reasons I have for accepting that the Catholic Church is what she says she is. Upon investigation, I became convinced that many of the denominations were Christian in name only, no longer motivated by any authentic Christian spirit (or Spirit) and no longer afire with the enthusiasm which originally provoked them to break away from their previous traditions and institutions.
At this point in my search, the idea of an Apostate Church versus a Primitive Church began to seem more and more unlikely. The whole argument that the Church was apostate turned on the date selected for its Apostasy.
Protestants, Heresiarchs, and Schismatics rarely utter a specific date, but logically, if the modern Catholic Church is an apostate corruption of the Primitive Church then there must be a point before which the Primitive Church was still pure, and a point after which the corruption was irrevocable.
I emphasize the concept of irrevocability because if the corruption was slow, there may be many years, even centuries, during which a recovery back to the original form and purity of doctrine was possible.
It cannot be logically maintained that any deviation by some minority in the Church, that is to say, the presence of a heresy, invalidates the authority of the Church. If the Church authorities in due time to examine and correct the heresy, anathematizing any heretical teachings expelling any obstinate heretics from communion, then the Church corrects the error and retains her authority.
(It is a separate argument to say that the Church does not or should not exercise this authority, and that all opinions no matter how wildly deviant should be welcomed within the Church. That argument is akin to saying their should be no Church, and hence no Christian teaching, hence no Christianity properly so called. That argument need not concern us.)
No one logically can maintain that the presence of one apostate among the Christians, or one evil bishop or concupiscent Pope, invalidates the whole claim of the whole church. Such perfection exists in no institutions whatsoever, nor can it.
Hence it is logically insufficient merely to accuse the Church of being imperfect. To be human is to be imperfect: that is not a sufficient reason for rebellion. The corruption must be incurable, and must act as a permanent abdication of the authority entrusted to His Church by Christ, so that all loyal followers are excused of any obligation to obey.
To be incurable, the false doctrine or practice must be one that achieves a commanding height in the Church, and which cannot lawfully be removed, and which also acts as a bar or block to salvation. The presence or absence of ornaments like stained glass windows, or devotions like praying the rosary, cannot be such a bar, since the Church does not teach these things as necessary to salvation.
So I set myself the task of discovering the date of the apostasy.
Working backward, the date of the apostasy had to be before the Council of Trent, since that was the Council to which the Protestant princes refused to submit.
One possible date is after the Fall of Rome, and the end of Imperial secular power in the West, for then the rise of the secular power of bishops of the Church would be claimed as the source of corruption. But this is not a dispute of doctrine. Even when the most outrageous of Borgia Popes or Avignon Antipopes occupied the Chair of Peter, none taught doctrines in contradiction to the received teaching, and no innovations date from that time.
Another possible date is in the Tenth Century. But surely the Apostasy of the Church was prior to this, for otherwise the Reformers would have conjoined with the Orthodox Church, adopted the noncentralized form of Church government, and accepted their doctrine regarding the Filioque controversy—unless this is also an apostasy. If so, then both the Western and the Eastern Churches alike lost their authority to teach Christian doctrine at least by that time.
For the same reason, any Reformer putting the last date of the Primitive Church in the Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Centuries likewise must cojoin with the Nestorian and Monophysite Churches, or revive the claims of the Arians and Donatists; or else he must reject those schisms as heretical while also rejecting the authority of the orthodox Church to declare them heretics.
And yet all mainstream Protestant denominations accept the findings of the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Ephesus as valid and authoritative: If so, the Church retained her teaching authority at least by those dates.
The dates earlier than this become, for reasons I have herebefore mentioned, increasingly fantastic and absurd: some date the apostasy with the date of the ascension of Constantine to the purple; others to some point within the Patristic period of the Antenicene Fathers; others to scriptural times (in which case the New Testament itself is suspect, and cannot be used as the touchstone to detect heresy); and at least one denomination claims that the Apostles never had the great commission nor authority to teach the teachings of Christ, nor to baptize laity, nor to anoint clerics.
The insurmountable difficulty with placing the date of Apostasy between the First and the Sixth Century is that it leaves all early heretical doctrines after this early date, from Gnosticism to Docetism, to Manicheanism to Donatism, to Arianism and Semi-Arianism, to Pelagianism to Nestorianism, Eutychianism as equally authoritative and valid as the Orthodox Church doctrine in defining Christianity.
But placing the date of apostasy after the Sixth Century means that the Church was still the Primitive Church at that time, and was correct to anathematize Monophystism, and did so as a correct application of her authority.
But this admission is fatal to Calvinism and other Protestant sects who hold that Christ died for the salvation of the Elect alone, with all others pre-destined inescapably to eternal death, for this is the doctrine called Predestinarianism, the work of a heretic called Godeschalcus, who flourished one hundred years before the Monophysites and two hundred before the Monothelites.
Like their heresies, the opinions of Godeschalcus were examined by the clerical legal and theological process of the time, and found to be incompatible with Christian teaching, and duly anathematized.
If this process was lawful and guided by the Holy Spirit, that it is the duty of all faithful Christians to eschew the false doctrines, no matter what their personal opinion or intellectual pretensions. But one cannot eschew Gnosticism, Docetism, Manicheanism, Donatism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism on the authority of the Church and then eschew the authority of the Church on the question of Predestinarianism.
In sum, any heresy which arose after the selected date, whenever it was, when the Primitive Church was no longer pure, cannot be discarded as heretical on the authority of the official Church decree of apostasy, because those decrees are invalid.
A Lutheran who denies the authority of the Council of Trent to define Church doctrine logically must also deny the authority of any other apostate councils, such as those who defined the canonicity of the Bible, the doctrine of the Incarnation, and the mystery of the Trinity. But this affirms (or, at least, undermines any authoritative anathematization of) any heresies or schisms arising after the first council of the Apostate Church or the last council of the Primitive Church, whenever that was.
A Mormon or Mohammedan simply does not have this difficulty, since the one denies everything after the Ascension of John, and the other denies scripture altogether, and writes his own; they both agree that the Church was apostate from when she was founded, if not before.
A modern nondenominational Christian, if such a chimera can be imagined, might argue that Christianity requires no authoritative body of teaching, nor even a canonized Bible, but only each man’s individual conscience, guided by the Holy Spirit (or, more likely, guided by whatever fashionable fads are currently fascinating the scribbling classes). The problem is that this doctrine of individual magisterial authority has no support in Christian teaching in any period of history, nor in scripture.
I have so often heard denunciations of the often-misunderstood doctrine of Papal Infallibility, that I have no patience for those who both utter that denunciation and then claim individual infallibility. Christ did not say the gates of Hell would not prevail against each and every lonely individual Christian reinventing the wheel for himself by himself; He said those gates would not prevail against His Church, founded on the rock of St Peter.
There is nothing in anything said by the Son to any saints or revealed by the Father to any patriarchs saying or implying that each man should or could write his own books of law and prophecy, his own Ten Commandments, and found his own Church.
There is, however, scripture implying that the Holy Spirit will protect the Church from apostasy: any schismatic must deny that implication, or interpret it to apply to whatever new church he means to found tomorrow, not to the one from which he stubbornly expelled himself yesterday.
So the idea that each man for himself should discover or invent his own version of the Church is a modern or postmodern idea, found in no generation before this one, and not found anywhere in Christian teaching, but repudiated everywhere.
In other words, it is the same as claiming that the Christian teaching was that there was no Christian teaching, but merely a vague but cheerful assurance given to each man that all his neighbors are heretics, but he alone is orthodox; while this selfsame vague but cheerful assurance is given to his neighbors, on the grounds that there is no orthodoxy, no heresy, no falsehood, no truth. It is a logical paradox.
For this reason, I held myself to be incompetent, that is, not authorized, to determine what should be excluded and what should be included in Christian teaching. I was a Christian, for I had seen a vision of Christ and been healed of a deadly wound by Him. But the vision did not pause to lecture me on the niceties of Trinitarianism or the Filioque controversy. (My very strong impression was that such controversies are intensely displeasing to Christ, and alien to the spirit of brotherhood and selfless love which illumines every aspect of Christian thought, or should. For this reason, any heresy or heathenism I think contains less than the fullness of revealed truth, never will I despise or denounce; I will only criticize it as incomplete. I deem certain of the pagan myths to contain clear glimpses of the truth that Christ revealed in greater fullness.)
Nonetheless, like a Martian approaching the warm blue dot of the Earth, by the time the Martian reaches the upper atmosphere, it must either leave its touchdown spot to blind chance, or select in which of the lands and seas underfoot to set down or to ditch his craft. Being a nondenominational Christian was a contradiction in terms, as much the Martian who lands on Earth but somehow is not on any particular one spot. Inventing my own version of Christianity was a contradiction in terms, for then it would be Wrightinanity, a prospect so horrifying that strong men should faint and children run shrieking.
So I turned to the various denominations and attempted to inquire of them, through their writings or through speaking with their members, when the date of apostasy was. When precisely had the Primitive Church lost the Mandate of Heaven?
My first surprise was that none of the Protestants I read or with whom I spoke or corresponded knew the date. Aside from windy assertions that the Catholic Church was pagan, or had substituted the doctrines of men for the teachings of Christ, or had introduced from the surrounding pagan culture various non-Christian practices, there was an astonishing, nay, a shocking dearth of specifics.
I am reminded of the assertion, often heard in the Postchristian age, that the Virgin Birth is a tale borrowed from pagan antiquity. This assertion justly annoys Protestants as much as Catholics, because it is both ubiquitous yet illogical, and resists all attempt to exorcise it. Consider: if the Virgin Birth were a tale applied to Mary from pagan antiquity, when was the application made? Did Luke hear some story he liked about Isis or Danae or Leto and decide merely to attribute such a fantastic bit of nonsense to Mary? But at the time when he wrote, the events in the Gospel were still within living memory. Would not James the brother of Jesus have objected that Joseph was the father of Jesus, and been offended at applying a pagan goddess story to a nice Jewish girl?
The assertion that the Virgin Mary is a pagan accretion or addition to pure and primitive Christianity founders as soon as one asks when the addition was made. If made before Luke wrote his gospel, we have the incredible improbability of faithful Jews (including strict Pharisees like Saul of Tarsus) welcoming pagan myths into what purportedly is eyewitness reports of the coming of the Jewish Messiah. These are the same men willing to be flayed alive with Bartholomew, stabbed with Paul, or crucified upside-down with Peter rather than throw a pinch of incense to divine Caesar — but now they are perfectly fine with pretending Mary, the mother of the Messiah, who is still alive and living in Palestine, is the same as Isis or Juno. Ri-iiii-ight.
If made after Luke wrote his gospel, then the nativity narratives were added by later editors, and these same men, tolerating without bending the persecutions of Nero or Diocletian, bent without demur to some mysterious Illuminati rewriting their holy books and adding pagan material. No doubt that is why the Apocalypse of John ends with a stirring passage where the saint recommends everyone and anyone add and subtract any material they would like to his book, and with his blessings, so that each man will have a personal version unalike any other. Ri-iiii-ight.
Any Protestant aware that the claim that the Virgin Mary’s virginity was imported from the virginity of Athena or Artemis evaporates the moment a specific date is proposed for the importation, will understand the same evaporation point applies to the claim of Church apostasy.
If the Primitive Church were anything like Lutheranism, or Calvinism, or Mormonism, or any other recent sect, then the earliest strata of Patristic writings would show the particular character of the unique doctrines of the sect which successfully revived the Primitive Church.
What do we find instead? Nine tenths of those writings concern those things all denominations hold in common. In the remaining tenth we find references to infant baptism, the veneration of Mary, the hierarchy of the Church, the Real Presence of the Eucharist, and so on and so on. These are writings from the Antenicene Fathers, dating from the years long before Dan Brown’s version of St Constantine replaced the non-authoritarian pro-feminist Church with a cunning robot duplicate and faked the moonlanding on a soundstage.
I recommend the book THE FATHERS KNOW BEST by Jimmy Akin if you wish to read a thorough treatment of the matter.