By John Marroquin

Introduction

I had the opportunity to share a fruitful dialogue with four Mormon missionaries over the course of a month. During this time, I read The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants in order to gain a fuller understanding of Latter Day Saint (LDS) beliefs. As a recent convert to Catholic Christianity, I am all-too aware of how easily it is for people to mischaracterize the beliefs of others, and I sought to arm myself with as much primary source knowledge as I could prior to engaging in our discussions.

The goal of this article is to expound upon a particular peculiarity of the LDS church, that being their claims that the church at large experienced a gradual apostasy through the 1st century AD, ending precipitously in the early 2nd century. I will be utilizing the writings of the church fathers and Sacred Scripture to unseat these claims.

The Assertion

One of the missionaries provided me with the below timeline they had received from an LDS apologist. This timeline was written on lined paper from their notes taken during the presentation, and I have transcribed it below:

The Falling Away

33 A.D.

  • Christ is crucified, resurrected, and church has formally been established.

42 A.D.

  • Peter establishes church in Rome.
  • Appoints Bishop Linus.

43 A.D.

  • Paul goes to Rome and sees the church apostatized. (See Romans: 1). Because of this apostacy, Paul appoints a deacon also named Linus. Deacon Linus was authorized leader of the church at this point, not Bishop Linus.

64 A.D.

  • Nero had Linus killed, we believe the authorized Church of Christ was gone at this point. Though a Christian church remained.

70 A.D.

  • Roman 10th Legion destroys Jerusalem

78 A.D. (ish)

  • Church (now Church of Rome), changes name to be a universal church. (Roman Catholic Church)

096–101 A.D.

  • John the revelator leaves the earth and no one else on the Earth holds the priesthood.

Apostasy is complete by 101 A.D.

The Refutation

First Point — Regarding 43 A.D., St. Linus was not appointed to the episcopate (made a bishop) until 67 A.D. St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote about this transition in his book Against Heresies: “After the holy apostles (Peter and Paul) had founded and set the church in order (in Rome) they gave over the episcopal office to Linus. The same Linus is mentioned by St. Paul in his epistle to Timothy. His successor was Anacletus.” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:3:3 [A.D. 189]).

Irenaeus was not the only church father to attest to Linus’ papacy after St. Peter. Bishop Eusebius Pamphilius (280–340 A.D.) in his Ecclesiastical History noted Linus, Anacletus, Clement as the first, second, and third Bishops of Rome. Additionally, Julius Africanus, St. Hippolytus, and the Liberian catalogue of 354 place the name of Linus directly after that of the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter. The scriptural citation St. Irenaeus mentioned was 2 Timothy 4:21–22 (emphasis added): 21 “Try to get here before winter. Eubulus, Pudens, Linus,* Claudia, and all the brothers send greetings. 22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with all of you.”

What about the supposed other Linus? Well, there is no source regarding a second Linus. This proposed name-fellow would be none other than the one and the same Linus St. Paul mentioned in Timothy. The reason the election of St. Linus to the papacy occurred in 67 A.D., rather than in 43 A.D. as argued by the LDS apologist, was because that was when St. Peter was martyred. St. Linus was not martyred by Nero, or by Diocletian. He was not martyred at all. He reigned as Pope until his death in 76 A.D., when Anacletus succeeded him.

Additionally, the idea of there being two concurrent bishops of Rome was unheard of, just as much as there being a Deacon Linus who was appointed to the office above the already appointed Bishop Linus (aka, the Pope). While St. Paul was a bishop and did minister alongside St. Peter, he was not in any sense the bishop of Rome.

Second Point — Romans 1 is not indicative of apostasy in Rome, and it was authored by St. Paul in Corinth approximately in 58 A.D., 15 years later than the proposed date of 43 A.D. At the time it was very common for these epistles to be circulated by bishops for the lower clergy and laity, as can be seen with the letters of other early church fathers in this era. The purpose of these epistles was for the guidance and correction of the church congregations, and in this case the correction is by no means chastisement for any perceived or actual apostasy. Similar epistles were sent to the communities of Corinth, Colossae, Galatia, and the other churches St. Paul wrote to.

The reason why we know that St. Paul would not have engaged with the Church of Rome in the same way as he had done with the other communities if it truly had apostatized as put forth by the LDS apologist comes directly from Galatians 1: 8 “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

This curse, an anathema, would be no different from the same approach proposed by our Precious Lord in Matthew 10:14: “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” There would have been no need for Saint Paul to engage the Romans in the same irenic, stewarding manner as he did the other church communities (or at all) if this apostasy was remotely true.

Third Point — The first written mention of the term “Catholic” from the Greek Catholicos, meaning universal, was not until 107 A.D., and placing this change at 101 A.D. is an anachronism. Credit for this first usage of Catholic in the ecclesial sense goes to St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was a student of St. John the Apostle.

“Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is there is the Catholic Church.” (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8 [A.D. 110]).

St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, another student of St. John the Apostle, also used the phrase in his own letters between 108 A.D. and 150 A.D.: “The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning in Philomelium, and to all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in every place: Mercy, peace, and love from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied.”

This was also the title for the church in the account of his martyrdom in approximately 150 A.D.:

“For, [Polycarp] having through patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous [in heaven], rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world.”

The term “Catholic” was used to refer to all the churches, not just the church in Rome, which would still be its designation in 78 AD. Before that point it was referred to as “the church” or “the way” but given its rapid outreach across the known world the church became known as “universal”. “The Catholic Church throughout the world.

Fourth Point — The apologist contradicts long-standing LDS teachings by stating that Saint John the Revelator (also known as The Apostle, Evangelist, and The Beloved) left the earth at all.

This is directly from the Latter-Day Saints Website:

Are John the Beloved and the Three Nephites actually still on the earth? If so, what are they doing? Yes, the Savior granted to John the Beloved and the Three Nephites their desire to tarry on the earth. What they’re doing is bringing souls unto the Lord until He comes again (see D&C 7:2; 3 Nephi 28:9).

By this claim alone, that St. John is still walking the earth, and was doing so for the past 2000 years, there never was a total great apostasy, even according to direct LDS teaching. In LDS beliefs, Saint John conferred the Priesthood authority alongside Saints Peter and James to Joseph Smith, who testified the below:

“The Saviour, Moses, & Elias — gave the Keys to Peter, James & John on the Mount when they were transfigured before him. . . . How have we come at the priesthood in the last days? It came down, down in regular succession. Peter James & John had it given to them & they gave it up [to me].”

This testimony was confirmed by Oliver Cowdery:

“upon this head has Peter James and John laid their hands and confer[r]ed the Holy Melchesdic Priesthood.”

So, the Mormons completely contradict themselves. Did he leave the earth or didn’t he? If John died and left this earth, then Mormon teaching has been erroneous and their own website is still in error today. If he did not die, then the priesthood authority was not completely taken from the earth, which is the Mormon claim for the supposed apostasy.

This proves that no full apostasy took place since a holder of the keys is still present on earth and has the authority to teach and ordain others. Additionally, how could Joseph Smith’s claim be true that Peter, James, and John appeared to him when John was still hear on earth?

In all charity: Checkmate Mormons. We have a large and looming contradiction here.

Conclusion

The crux of this refutation comes directly from the very words of the founders of the church, the early fathers of the faith who learned directly from the apostles who laid hands upon them and appointed them as bishops. These inheritors of the unbroken apostolic succession have shown through their written testimonies that the church has indeed persevered and has not tarried from the true deposit of faith. What brought this fullness of truth to light was the undeniable chain of authority that can be traced from any bishop in this day all the way back to the apostles.

When the topic of the great apostasy first arose during our chats, I asked my LDS interlocuters to show me a point in this unbroken chain of Catholic bishops where the great apostacy occurred. At this point they were stumped. I pointed out that by my reckoning the only time in history that would even remotely resemble this supposed falling away was the advent of Protestantism in the 16th century. They (reluctantly) agreed.

The one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church is indeed the bride of Christ, and He is our bridegroom. True, the course of history has left His bride a little worse for wear, as a church with fallible human members this was bound to be the case. However, as Catholic Christians our trust is not in the church itself, nor in the church’s bishops, nor in the Pope. Rather, our trust is in the authority vested therein by the irrevocable, undeniable promises of Christ, which I will conclude with here.

Matthew 16:18 — On the Catholic Church and the Papacy:

18 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Matthew 18:18–20 — On the Episcopacy

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew 28:18–20 — Christ Himself on His permanence within the Church. The death knell for the theory of the great apostacy:

18 “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”