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Quotations from modern prophets:
When did The Apostasy begin?
Key stages:
  • The apostles were killed

  • Constantine corrupted the church.

  • Justinian turned the last lights out.

The process of apostasy began when the apostles died. But when was process complete? See also
A history of the church up to AD 570

How long could the church survive after the deaths of the apostles?

Lorenzo Snow: the gospel would still survive, even if only one person remained

"Should the prominent men of this Church, together with tens of thousands of its Elders, be swept away by our enemies, the Gospel would still survive, and with unabated force and vigor, still continue its irrepressible operations. So long as one solitary Elder, however unlearned, obscure or possessing an honest heart, remain alive upon the earth, these holy and sacred truths will be avowed and vindicated, order and proper authority continue their peaceful and happy reign, and Elders with hearts overflowing with love and heaven born-zeal, go forth to the nations, churches spring up in every land and clime, Saints increase and multiply and gather together; the Kingdom of God continue to be established, and the suggestive and inspired sayings of the Prophet Daniel be literally and emphatically accomplished."

- Journal of Discourses, vol.13, p.291

[It should be noted however that, after the deaths of the apostles, the church did not die away then spring to life again. It died away then continued to die away. We have a thousand years of history as proof that it was as dead as dead could be.]


The process of apostasy

We cannot be certain when the last priesthood holder died, but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence from modern prophets.

New Testament times

As discussed elsewhere, the New Testament shows how false ideas arose in the church, even while the apostles were present. This is familiar to Latter-day Saints and all those who read the Bible, so it will not be discussed here.

The apostles are killed

The deaths of the apostles was a critical time. After this, the church drifted without direction. This point is also well established, so will not be discussed here.

The abominable church STARTED its greatest work in the second century

"And after they have fallen asleep the great persecutor of the church, the apostate, the whore, even Babylon, that maketh all nations to drink of her cup, in whose hearts the enemy, even Satan, sitteth to reign--behold he soweth the tares; wherefore, the tares choke the wheat and drive the church into the wilderness."

Doctrine and Covenants 86:1-3 (emphasis added).
[Note that tares take a certain time to grow before they choke the wheat.]

"the deaths of the Apostles meant the loss of what Paul had called 'the foundation' of the church. [In] the post-apostolic era ... the doctrinal integrity of the church began to be compromised"- Ensign, Dec 1995, p.29 (emphasis added)

"And after they [the New Testament scriptures] go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of a great and abominable church... [the last books were written at the end of the first century AD, so this must refer to at least the second century AD]

"Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. [another delay]

"And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles"

- 1 Nephi 13:26, 28-29 (emphasis added)

Occasional signs of the true faith survived for a while

"But as the Church slipped irrevocably into apostasy as a body, the record of martyrs tells us that many others remained firm in their testimonies of the resurrected Lord"

- Ensign, Oct 1988, p.10.
[John is very concerned with these martyrs,
and confirms that it takes a time for all to be martyred
- see Revelation 6:9-11, especially verse 11]

"For after the deaths of its leaders, the Church was left to wander, making its way haltingly until its original form and authority were lost"

- Ibid. This is the concluding sentence of the article.

Traces of the church survived for centuries

[The pamphlet "Which Church is Right" by Mark E. Petersen lists the changes that corrupted the Church. Further detail is in the book "The Great Apostasy" by James E. Talmage. Perhaps the biggest set of changes was as late as the fourth century, under Constantine and his successors. Some of the changes listed are in the sixth century or even later.]

Constantine

The emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire in the fourth century. Ever since Joseph Smith's "History of the Church", and through the works of James E. Talmage, Mark E. Petersen and others, Constantine has been identified as a major milestone in the apostasy.

"Taking then the reign of Constantine as the period beyond which the true religion of Christ did not extend, nor the true Church of Christ exist, let us consider Christianity before his reign and after it. Here I shall ask the reader to take into account as part of the consideration of Christianity previous to Constantine what I have already set before him in this introduction concerning the tendency to division and heresies which existed in the Church in the days of the Apostles; and also those quotations I have made from eminent Christian authorities, which give evidence of the early corruption of Christianity, and which too plainly testify that it was in a state of steady decline through the second and third centuries, until it was fit only for such enthronement as a Constantine could give it, when he made it the state religion of a corrupt empire hastening to its decay. If the reader will do this, it will obviate the necessity of my referring to these matters again."

- History of the Church, Introduction, p. lxix

Note that this took time. Here, Elder Hunter implies that it took the entire fourth century to work its way through the Roman empire. Parts of this quotation were used in the recent "Doctrines of the Gospel" manual.

"As time went on, and as Paul the Apostle and others of the great prophets had predicted, heresies crept into the Christian Church. False teachings and false doctrines came into Christianity. Especially is this true toward the end of the fourth century A. D. At that time the Roman government made the Christian Church the state religion and outlawed all pagan religions. This resulted in thousands and thousands of pagans flocking into the Christian Church, naturally without being converted. They brought with them their choice pagan ideas, practices, religious rituals and doctrines, bringing about an adulteration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which resulted in what is known as the Great Apostasy."

"If the Savior had come back to earth at the beginning of the fifth century A.D., I doubt whether he would have recognized the Christian Church as the one that claimed descent from that which he had established, so far had it gone astray."

- Milton R. Hunter, Conference Report, October 1951, Pg.140

Could any trace of the original gospel survive? Apparently it could. But nothing could survive the last major stage of loss: the reign of Justinian.


Justinian

Here are just some of the great truths that were finally lost under the period of Justinian's terrible rule.

Neal A. Maxwell: the loss of the doctrine of pre-existence:

"Interestingly enough some recently available historical evidence indicates that, while the doctrine of premortal existence did not survive in full abundance to take its place in the Holy Bible, it was taught by some during and after the apostolic era in the meridian of time. In fact, it was not until A.D. 553, and perhaps a few years prior, that (by the action of the Second Council of Constantinople) teachers of this doctrine were declared "anathema" (see Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, vol. IV [New York: Dover Publishers, 1961], pp. 245, 347-49; also Philip Hughes, The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870 [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964], pp. 117-18)."

- But for a Small Moment, Pg.79

Times and Seasons: putting the Pope in charge, and suppressing the scriptures

"Sackcloth is the emblem of obscurity. Rev. vi:12. `The sun became black as sackcloth of hair'-denoting partial obscuration, but not entire darkness. These witnesses were darkened by the usurpation of Popery. In 533, in his crusade against the Arian heresy, Justinian, the Greek emperor, conferred supreme power in the church on the Pope of Rome, and constituted him the first of all bishops-head of all the churches-the true and effective corrector of heretics, &c. In 538, Justinian conquered the Ostrogothic kingdom of Rome, an Arian kingdom, and subjected the whole church to the church of Rome and set up the papal hierarchy. The scriptures were soon suppressed; the Greek and Latin languages ceased to be spoken as living languages, and the people were unable to read them. They prophesied still, but their light did not shine because they were in a language they did not understand. The Catholic church have prohibited the reading of scriptures by the people without the permission of the priests."

- Times and Seasons 11. April 15, 1843.  no. 71

Mark E. Petersen: the loss of "common consent"

"In the middle of the sixth century, Justinian I assumed control of the Church as part of his empire, and took from the people their right of "common consent" in local matters within the Church; declared that only the clergy should have a voice in the affairs of the Church, and said further that the only voice the clergy could have was to accept and ratify the acts of the emperor in the direction of religious matters. If they refused to comply, they would be banished."

- "The Need For a Restoration"

Times and Seasons: This was a terrible time for the Jews [and other minority beliefs]

Speaking of the Jews: "Justinian, from whose principles of legislation a wiser and more human policy ought to have emanated, yielded to none of his predecessors in hostility and severity against them. He abolished their synagogues, prohibited them even from entering into caves for the exercise of their worship, rendered their testimony inadmissible, and deprived them of the natural right of bequeathing their property; and when such oppressive enactments led to insurrectionary movements among the Jews, their property was confiscated-many of them beheaded-and so bloody an execution of them prevailed, that as it is expressly related, "all the Jews of that century trembled." "

- Times and Seasons 6. Feb 1st, 1843.  no. 66

As shown elsewhere, Justinian did not just attack the Jews - minority Christian faiths also felt his wrath.

With the loss of premortal understanding, the "lights went out":

[The following quotation was found it the latest gospel library at ldsworld.com - but unfortunately I do not have an account, so cannot trace the original authors. It may be Mark E. Petersen?]

"Indeed, to say that spiritual light was dimmed by late Christian tradition may belie the point. More accurately stated, someone turned the lights out. Historically the story is simply this: belief in the premortal existence of the soul was dropped from Christianity in A.D. 553 by an edict known as the Anathemas against Origen, promulgated by the Roman emperor Justinian. The Pope consented under extreme duress."

[Note also that Justinian was the last emperor to have unquestioned power over the church of Rome. This all changed under Gregory.]


The "man child" of Revelation 12

The loss of "common consent" under Justinian appears to fulfil the prophecy in Revelation 12 of the man child being taken into heaven. This event is discussed in more detail on the page about the Lombards. Often in the church we talk as if the "man child" was the authority of the apostles. This is true in a general sense, but we need to be more specific:

The man child was the church organization, not the apostles

"The man child representing the priesthood, who was chosen "to rule all nations with a rod of iron," was "caught up unto God, and to his throne," there to remain through the dark days of spiritual rebellion and satanic dominion, or until the earth could be prepared for his return to receive just and rightful power."

- Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, vol.3, p..270

"the Man Child, -- the Holy Priesthood, was received up into heaven from whence it came"

- Discourses of Brigham Young, Pg.415

[Does this mean the priesthood in the sense of the apostolic authority - the keys of the kingdom of heaven? Or does it mean the priesthood in the sense of the men of the priesthood - the day to day organization on the ground?]

"A woman ("the church of God"!) gives birth to a man child ("the kingdom of our God and his Christ" which shall hold sway during the Millennial Era, the kingdom John has just seen in vision!). See Rev. 11:14-19. Such is the Prophet's inspired interpretation.

"Among Biblical scholars of the world, the man child is presumed to be Christ, a speculative conclusion which, though seemingly persuasive, is refuted by the obvious fact that the Church did not bring forth Christ; he is the Creator of the Church.

"Among Latter-day Saint scriptural exegetes, it is not uncommon to say that the man child is the priesthood, a seemingly persuasive speculation, which again however must be rejected by the same line of reasoning. The Church did not bring forth the priesthood, but the priesthood is the power that brought the Church into being."

- Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol.3, p.517

[So when the prophets said the man child was the "priesthood", they meant the kingdom (or organization) of the church, not the apostolic authority.]

John and Isaiah both confirm this interpretation of "man child"

[The idea of the woman having a man child comes from Isaiah chapter 66:]

5 Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.

6 A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that rendereth recompense to his enemies. [Compare Revelation 12:2,5]

7 Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.

8 Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? [or] shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.

[Isaiah continues, showing that this righteous nation - Zion's children - shall rule the world. It is the same story that Daniel taught. The Saints would inherit the world. ]

[Isaiah, like Daniel, was talking about the Second Coming of Christ. John, in Revelation, makes clear that in his day, the First Coming, the man child was not going to grow to rule the world at that time, but was to be taken back to heaven.]

[Revelation 12:17 refers to "the remnant of her seed", which everyone understands is the church's remaining members. Revelation therefore shows us that the woman's seed - which of course included the man child - refers to church members]

 


Conclusion

"The change from truth to error in the church did not take place in a day. The Apostasy, hastened by the deaths of the Apostles in the latter half of the first century, gradually deepened during the years that followed. By the fourth century there was hardly a trace"

- Church History in the Fullness of Times (Institute manual) p.4

[Note also that these statements focus on the main church in Rome, where the changes occurred fairly quickly. It is possible that in some far flung corner of the Lord's vineyard, the apostasy may have progressed more slowly. While even one righteous family survived with the priesthood, the apostasy was not complete.]

 

the bottom line

The apostasy did not happen all at once. It took centuries to be complete. The dim lights finally went out under Justinian.

 

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