For Protestantism to make much sense, the Church must have, at some point, abandoned the truth and become apostate. Otherwise, Protestantism has no license to exist. But when was this “Great Apostasy”? Protestants offer varying opinions, but none of them hold up to scrutiny.
Was it right after the deaths of the Apostles?
A view most supported by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses is that, after the Apostles, the Church quickly fell into apostasy. This would be a massive blow at both God’s promise to guard His Church (Joshua 1:5; Matthew 16:18) and all of the doctrine mentioned hereafter. But if this were true, would not one of the disciples of the Apostles have spoken out? We have writings from many of them, including Pope St. Clement I, St. Barnabas, St. Polycarp, and St. Ignatius of Antioch. None of them mention a “Great Apostasy”. But even if we indulge the other side and admit the possibility that even these men fell away, we still have early documents and creeds (like the Didache) that were probably formulated under the authority of the Apostles. Because Christians continued to be in accord with these extra-Biblical teachings, we know that they must have been in accord with the true Church.
Was it at the time of Constantine?
A semi-popular view is that Constantine corrupted Christianity by encouraging “pagan” elements and demanding a decision from the First Council of Nicaea. This is the view that I come into contact with most often, but it is also the most problematic. If the Church became apostate by 337 (the year of Constantine’s death), then the Biblical canon – which only really started to be compiled by St. Athanasius in 367 – may be wrong: we would have no assurance of its infallibility. Also, on top of that, all later theology would be necessarily nulled.
Was it during the Middle Ages?
The possibility of an apostasy in Medieval times seems far-fetched, too. This theory revolves, primarily, around hatred for some “bad” popes. Rather than focusing on doctrinal issues, proponents of this theory typically resort to character defamation. Many attack the Crusades, which tamed a fanatic Islam, and such. But in this period, literacy rates increased, art flourished, the university system developed, laws were better-codified, and the Bible became more accessible to lay people [1, 2]. The only seemingly objectionable doctrinal development was Pope Boniface VIII’s declaration, “Outside of the Church, there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins”, but even this originates with St. Cyprian! The teaching relates to: 1) the fact that baptism (whether by water, blood, or desire) brings one into the Church (even if done within a Protestant community), because the sacrament was entrusted to Her and She allows anyone with the right intent to perform it, and 2) the importance of conscience and the dangers of apostasy. Nothing worthy of damnation here!
Was it just before the “Reformation”?
The idea of a “restoration” being needed just before the “Reformation” also seems improbable. This common idea is based on the “selling” of indulgences [1, 2, 3] (Martin Luther attacks the practice multiple times in his Ninety-Five Theses), but is mostly due to a misunderstanding. Again, the Protestant understanding usually relies on the assault of characters: people like Johann Tetzel are demonized — perhaps rightfully — for abusing the system. But this abuse was not a doctrinal problem of the Church; rather, it was a disciplinary problem of men. Indulgences simply remove the temporal punishment due for past sin — they are not a “Get out of Hell free” card — and even when they were “sold,” they required some sort of penance. Indulgences only have a salvatory effectiveness (remittance of time in Purgatory) if the recipient is already destined for Heaven. So, it would seem that the fuss is all about nothing.
In conclusion, I see none of these options as likely.
The Church strongly opposes contraception, in keeping with the historical position of Christianity. Openness to procreating life is one of the defining characteristics of marriage, which is primarily what makes homosexual “marriage” impossible. The Church also upholds the life-long commitment that is marriage. Contrast the Church’s beautiful teachings on all of this against the positions of Protestantism — those of Anglicanism, in particular.
Anglicans once agreed with the Church on these subjects, up until the 1930 Lambeth Conference that approved contraception in some cases (which, of course, had a snowball effect). Here’s the 15th resolution from the Conference:
“Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”
There were still some restrictions, obviously, but since then, all practical barriers to contraception have fallen. That decision of that Conference is interesting, especially considering that it stated that “the primary purpose for which marriage exists is the procreation of children” in its 13th resolution and that “the duty of parenthood [is] the glory of married life” in its 14th resolution.
The Episcopal “Church” of the USA (the official American branch of Anglicanism) also now blesses homosexual relationships. (See their liturgy for it here.) The “Church” of England recently announced that it will follow the same route.
But what must be kept in mind is that, in 1991, the ECUSA officially barred homosexual couples from having sexual relations:
“..the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirms that the teaching of the Episcopal Church is that physical sexual expression is appropriate only within the lifelong monogamous ‘union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind’ ‘intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord’ as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer” [link]
And the 1930 Lambeth Conference addressed the subject, as well:
“[The Conference] reaffirms ‘as our Lord’s principle and standard of marriage a life-long and indissoluble union, for better or worse, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, and calls on all Christian people to maintain and bear witness to this standard.'” [from Resolution 11]
So, if openness to life is not required in marriage (which the acceptance of contraception would seem to indicate), then why are same-sex couples in the ECUSA mandated to practice sexual abstinence? And if it is required, then why are contraception and homosexual relationships now endorsed?
And I must say that I find it laughable (but not at all surprising) that Anglicanism, which was founded by a king that just wanted a few divorces, is so inconsistent on the subject of divorce, too. Its leaders have taught that marriage is to be a “life-long union” (Resolution 114 of the 1958 LC) and “no husband or wife has the right to contemplate even legal separation until every opportunity of reconciliation and forgiveness has been exhausted” (Resolution 116 of the 1958 LC), yet divorce and “remarriage” are now totally accepted.
The Anglican positions on marriage and sexuality are nonsensical. Would not God’s true Church be more consistent? If Anglicans really want to “secure a better education for the clergy in moral theology” (Resolution 12 of the 1930 LC), then they should tell them to become Catholic.