People often respond
when talking about my concerns for the Church, "Christ promised that he would
always be with his Church and the gates of hell will never prevail against her"
so there is nothing to worry about. My response is that yes but does that mean
that He would always be with a Church in the state of apostasy or if it did not
teach His truth? A pedantic friend always claims the Church can never be an
apostate church only individuals can be apostates. My question is, can the Holy
Catholic Church ever be in the state of apostasy? Is my response a correct one?
Answer / Resources:
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I am not
sure that by 'apostasy' you mean a "total desertion of or departure from the
Catholic faith" or the ex cathedra/infallible teaching of some heresy(ies).
Either way though, the Catholic Church could never actually be in a 'state of
apostasy'. However, that doesn't mean that everything in the Church must
necessarily be 'rosy' either. Your question is tied with infallibility, yet
remember that infallibility is limited – it is NOT a total protection from all
error throughout the Church (for more on infallibility, please try
here). Furthermore, it is certainly possible that members of the hierarchy
can apostatize – but not the Church as a whole. Christ does promise to
remain with the Church, but He does not promise the Church will be any
given size, nor does He promise that all prelates will always speak the truth.
Prelates can (and have) spoken in error. Even popes have taught incorrectly when
not protected by infallibility. And, conceivably, the Church could be reduced to
just a small number. Considering that Christ questions whether He will find faith on
earth when He returns (see Lk. 18:8), we should *not* expect things to be
going very well on earth at His Second Coming.
We know that the
Church is currently in a pretty bad state (e.g. poor catechesis, lack of respect
for the Holy Eucharist, lack of fear of the Lord, various prelates
teaching/promoting error, etc.), yet that does not mean Christ has left the
Church. The Church still teaches the truth, even if some prelates don't and even
if few people actually know what the Church teaches. As regards the problems in
the Church today, I would argue that many stem from merely pastoral
decisions/actions and these pastoral matters are NOT protected by infallibility.
They can be (and many have been, IMHO) very bad for the Church and for souls.
Nevertheless, we can rely with certainty: (1) that the sacraments (administered
properly) do what they have always done, (2) that validly ordained priests have
the power they have always had, and (3) that the faith handed down from Jesus &
the apostles is true and is still held – and will always be held – by the Church
(as a whole, not by every person who claims to be Catholic, layperson or
otherwise). As regards any 'novel doctrines', the Church does not have the power
to impose them, so we can have confidence that any such doctrines will
not be proclaimed with infallibility. Nevertheless, the necessity of prayer both
for the Church and for her hierarchy & members cannot be emphasized enough.
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