COC #25: A Comparative Reflection on the Word “Apostasy”

Consider a sacramental reflection on the word “apostasy”, and how it relates to the full understanding of what “falling away” might mean—how it might reveal which Church, Catholic or “Protestant/Restored”, is more legitimate. The “falling away” (apostasy) is derived from the Greek word apostasai—a rather unique sounding word when transliterated (not translated) into English, and one that carries no historical connotations to remind its modern Protestant readers that a pre-apostate body existed. (St. Paul’s original audience certainly understood that the visible, institutional, and authoritative body of the Church existed.) In English, “apostasy” conjures, in the Protestant mind, a falling from an invisible mystical truth—infidelity to a theory—not a falling away from a visible body that is indeed the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

“Apostasy”, as an English word, is a euphemism to evade a grave matter that hits the Protestant world where it is born: the “Reformation”, which was no reformation (starting new bodies does not reform older bodies), but a “rebellion”—a rebellion born by men who went out from the Church (cf. 1 John 2:19). And that is what apostasy is. Apostasy is rebellion, and good English Bible translations rightly translate St. Paul’s use of apostasai as “rebellion” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. And therefore, the word “apostasy”, in the language of the New Testament, should shake Protestants; it should remind them that they exalted themselves, that they in fact rebelled, that they are closer to fulfilling St. Paul’s prophecy (if one demands that he prophesied about a Great Apostasy) than Catholics, because they divorced themselves from the established Church—like a woman who leaves her husband because she simply does not want to remain faithful.

The new Protestant acceptance of marital divorce, compared to the historical Christian belief, is another example of how the word “apostasy” should, yet does not, ring sour to non-Catholic Christian sensitivities. For not only is “apostasy” defined as “rebellion” from an established visible body, but its Greek use (apostasion; a cognate of apostasai) is also a word for marital “divorce” (cf. Matthew 5:31, 19:7; Mark 10:4)—a reminder that the newly formed Protestant enthusiasm/acceptance for sacrament-less Holy Orders, and for sacrament-less Marriage and easy divorce, is analogous in some way. Put differently, the word “apostasy” (“falling away”) overlaps two different sacraments of grace, thereby illustrating the Catholic Church’s anchor of orthodoxy and Protestantism’s unfaithful wandering eye.

So will your ministers refer to the Great Divorce instead of the Great Apostasy—use words that might remind them that they are part of a self-exalted body that rebelled and divorced itself from the Church, instead of maintaining that they were, somehow, the “first” Church that others abandoned? In other words, the correct use of the language does not allude to a falling away from pre-Church of Christ Protestantism or a nebulous ecclesial theory; but a rebellion, much like what the Reformation inflicted on the world, and a divorce from the conduit of God’s wisdom (cf. Ephesians 3:10).  

The words “falling away”, or “apostasy”, however, do not prick the collective Protestant conscience—and non-Catholic Christians can proudly proceed to believe they are not rebelling against God and have not divorced themselves from His Church. The language itself proves nothing one way or the other, but its English use protects Protestantism’s evasive nature, and its Greek use illustrates the grave nature of sacramental derailment, which becomes, so to speak, a proof that the Catholic Church has not divorced herself from any nascent body, in that she has not abandoned her fidelity to the sacraments. But because I am Catholic, I do not hope St. Paul was illustrating the future Protestant Rebellion (and by extension, your Restoration), and I do not force a final stamp on any interpretation by the authority I might grant myself, but instead refer to the timetable he alluded to. St. Paul’s use of the words that day referred to exactly what he wrote: the day of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:2), and the day of the Lord is not yet here.1

      1 Other words and descriptions are used within Scripture to describe the event: Parousia, or Advent (1 Corinthians 15:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:19), Epiphany or Appearance (2 Thessalonians 2:8, 1 Timothy 6:14, 2 Timothy 4:1, Titus 2:13), Apocalypse or Revelation (2 Thessalonians 2:7, 1 Peter 4:13), “that day” (2 Timothy 4:8), “the day of Christ” (Philemon 1:6), “the day of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:30), and “the last day” (John 6:36-40).