The celebrations occurring within the Catholic Church this time of year are those commemorating the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven and Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem. Accounts of the Ascension (see the photograph accompanying this post) are presented in Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:50-51) and in Chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:6-10). Before this, as recorded at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew, he told them “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mat 28:20). The account of Pentecost is presented in Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-4). This coming of the Holy Spirit had been prophesied in the Old Testament and also promised by Jesus himself, when he said this: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (John 14:26). It seems pretty clear that the Church Jesus founded is promised to have the full support and guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things until the end of time.
We all know that the Church has faced many challenges in its history. One that comes to mind is the Arian heresy. In the fourth century, a priest in Alexandria, Egypt, by the name of Arius began to teach that Jesus was not God, that he did not have a divine nature but only a human nature. This, of course, went against the teaching of the Church that says that Jesus had both natures. It was a serious challenge to the Church because Arianism began to have many followers, including bishops, and threatened to divide the Church. In the year 325, the Council of Nicaea was convened to solve the controversy. This council was the first of many “ecumenical” councils called to address controversies and/or clarify Church teachings. The Arian issue was not fully settled until the Council of Constantinople met in the year 381. But it WAS settled and traditional Church teaching was upheld. Was this not the work of the Holy Spirit?
Another challenge that comes to mind is the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation began early in the sixteenth century when a German priest, Martin Luther, posted his “95 Theses” on the door of a Catholic Church in 1517 and a real and serious splintering of the Church occurred. The reformers claimed that the Church Jesus founded fell into corruption and began teaching many errors and falsehoods soon after the last apostle died back in the second century! So for about 1300 years, in the view of the reformers, the Church was apparently no longer guided by the Holy Spirit and Jesus had reneged on his promise that he would be with us “to the end of the age.” While Christianity was most certainly fragmented as a result, one Church, one religion, the Catholic Church, did not buy into this new teaching and today still claims to be continuing as the Church founded by Jesus, complete with apostolic succession, true guidance of the Holy Spirit, and true adherence to the teachings of Jesus Christ. There has been no Church council that has been able to solve this controversy and so today, in the twenty-first century, Christianity remains fragmented – a very sad state of affairs.