So, when Jesus established the Church...?


…and told Peter that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it”, how do we reconcile some of the evils that has infiltrated the Church? Not to beat a dead horse here, but all the typical examples such as, the sex-abuse scandal, the crusades, various anti-popes, liberalized liturgies, etc.

It seems to me that the phrase I quaoted above seems to be stating that evil shall not be allowed in the church heirarchy, yet it seems to happen. I certainly realize that evil is individualized, but isn’t that an example of where hell IS prevailing?

Just curious what everyone’s thoughts are on this matter…



Obviously, most of us on here are not qualified to give a definitive interpretation of scripture (only the Church can provide that). That being said, it seems to me that when one looks at the scripture reference you are referring to, that it does not refer to the failure of human agents inside the Church. The prime purpose of the Church as an institution is to administer the sacraments and to preach the Gospel. As long as both of those missions continue, even though administered by flawed humanity, then the Gates of Hell have not triumphed.

Lets look at it this way, all of the examples you quote are definitely stains on the history of the Church and some of them represent the sins of individuals. Now, the Church Hierarchy is made up of individual human beings. No human is perfect… indeed the best of us sin many times each day. But sin is sin. The sins we often consider minor, if we used the standard you provided, would be just as much proof of the triumph of the Gates of Hell. But that makes no sense because if that was true, then the Church failed even as it started. So the purity of the human leaders of the Church (as opposed to its true head, Jesus Christ) cannot be what Jesus was referring to.



I see it as evil shall not prevail against God’s revelation as interpreted and revealed through the Church, just as mostly all of us believe that that has happened for the Bible.

It’s just that the Bible never says anything like that about itself, only something like that about the Church. It’s the Church that has taught that about the Bible.


I certainly understand your question. It does help to understand it if we remember that that which is sin of those things that you listed (The Crusades per se cannot be construed as a sin) were done by individuals. The Church itself has not collapsed into a Culture of Death. It has stood against the Cathars, e.g., who did in fact propose a Culture of Death.

About the passage itself: It must be true that the passage must be interpreted somewhat differently than you have suggested. For example, the Lord said that He would never leave us or foresake us even unto the end of the age. He also said that the Holy Spirit it would lead us into all truth. If the gates of hell encroached upon the Church then these statements of Jesus would be untrue.

Moreover, the verb in this passage that you sited is Middle Voice. I.e., the passage might better be translated “The gates of hell will not be able to withstand the onslaught of the Church.” Surely, the death of Jesus Himself and the deaths of the millions of martyrs since might seem to indicate an encroachment by the powers of hell upon the kingdom of God. In reality these deaths constitute a victory of God over hell.

But, as you say, while these reflections help I certainly wish evil did not exist, anywhere. It’s existence forces me to my knees many times but then that is not an altogether bad thing. “How long, O Lord, will you allow the enemies of God’s people to kill our brothers and sisters. And the Lord gave them each a bright robe bleached bright in the blood of the Lamb thus mingling their blood with His and gave them a crown. He reassured them that it would not be long.”



Our Lord’s words tell us that His Church shall prevail despite the attacks of Hell against it; Hell shall not prevail, His Church will. His words do not mean that the sins of individuals - including those of members of the hierarchy that occasionally in effect the Church as a whole - will ever be the cause of the Church’s demise. Since the Church is Christ’s Mystical Body it cannot be prevailed against. Have you not noticed that the Church still prevails despite what you may rightly or wrongly perceive as the failings of the hierarchy? :slight_smile:


These questions get kind of frustrating to me. Protestant ministers are as likely as any to be morally corrupt, but we don’t claim their churches are “false” based on this. We don’t claim their churches (most) are false at all, just not being in possession of the fullness of the truth, right? Still, congregations in Protestant churches all over the world take their ministers’ interpretation that they’re preaching in their sermons as being the inspired word of God, and it’s the “corrupt popes” that get it all the time. It’s frustrating.


To prevail is to achieve final victory over. Analogy: the free world was on the ropes in 1940-42, but in the end the enemies of the free world did not prevail. Think of today as 1942 within the Church.


My question is academic and philosophical in nature, not judgemental, therefore my “perception” is irrelevant to the question.



AHHH…but protestants don’t use this biblical passage the same way as Catholics do… It’s Catholics that claim to be in “the fullness of the truth”, but I’m proposing the argument that it seems somewhat hypocritical to state: If hell cannot prevail, then how can it infiltrate?

But I have seen some extremely strong arguments here so far…



Do you think the gates of hell have prevailed against the world? There is evil in the world, but does that mean tht hell has prevailed against the world?


The Church teaches that she is infallible in her teachings on faith and morals-that evil will in no way compromise those teachings- which are the heart and soul of our faith and the good news which man needs to hear. She does not teach that her people will be impeccable or never sin. They shouldn’t of course, but then neither should’ve Adam, Eve, or the rest of us.


I do. The Prince of the power of the air rules the world…sort of. The Church is on the attack against Satan but the world is in his clutches. Satan cannot win.



How can Satan have prevailed against the world if he cannot win? That seems contradictory. He can prevail over individuals because when they die their fate is sealed, but how can he prevail against the world?


I think the problem here is that over-zealous Catholic apologists insist that the phrase MUST mean “I will ensure that the Bishops of Rome, your successors, do not make errors in matters of faith and morals when they speak ex cathedra or when they approve of ecumenical councils,” or something like that. You are right (and this is a point I’ve frequently raised to Catholics) that it’s at least as reasonable on the face of it to suppose that it means something like “all leaders of the Church will behave in a manner that is fairly moral and decent.” We know that no Christian church has been given that promise, because all Christian churches that have existed for any length of time on anything like a large scale have had leaders that did some rather nasty things. We can’t prove that the text doesn’t mean what Catholic apologists say it means, but to us non-Catholics it often looks as if you guys simply define your terms so as to make the promise unfalsifiable. I think we have to come at it differently.

The Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson has suggested that a dogmatic definition is an occasion when the Church so commits itself to a doctrine that if it were wrong then no Church would exist to rectify the error. That definition allows us non-Catholics to question whether every ex cathedra or conciliar definition really fits the bill here (would the Church cease to exist–would the gates of hell really prevail-- if it turned out that Mary was not immaculately conceived?). But you in turn can hold us accountable to a vision of the Church capable of making such dogmatic definitions. If the gates of hell did not in fact prevail against the medieval Church, then we Protestants are bound to proceed as if that Church is part of our heritage to which we are accountable. If (as I believe) II Nicaea made a decision about a matter (the nature of idolatry) concerning which the Church cannot be wrong without ceasing to exist, then we Protestants have to question much of the basis for the Protestant Reformation (at least in its Reformed version). If the medieval Christian range of opinions concerning justification by faith left room for the Gospel, then we have to question whether Luther’s “article by which the Church stands or falls” is anything of the kind. And so on, and so forth.



But you did include your perception when you wrote:

It seems to me that the phrase I quaoted above seems to be stating that evil shall not be allowed in the church heirarchy, yet it seems to happen. I certainly realize that evil is individualized, but isn’t that an example of where hell IS prevailing (my emphasis)?

So does it not seem that your question arose from a judgment you’ve made vis-a-vis the hierarchy of the Church?


Why is he called “The Prince of the Power of the Air?” Why hasn’t original sin been vanquished in the natural order of things? Why does it still affect those without a human will? The power of Satan has been broken for those who have been baptized but for all other humans they are still dominated by sin and death. It is also present in the world.



So, by saying that hell has prevailed against the Church you are in effect saying that Christ either lied to Peter or He was wrong in His statement…both of which we know are simply impossible…rethink your assertion.

[quote=]It seems to me that the phrase I quaoted above seems to be stating that evil shall not be allowed in the church heirarchy, yet it seems to happen. I certainly realize that evil is individualized, but isn’t that an example of where hell IS prevailing?


I see all the scandals and sinful inviduals that have been in the Church over the centuries as further PROOF that the gates of hell have not prevailed. As badly as we sinful humans try to bring down the Church, either conciously in a few cases or unconciously, the Church still stands and the truths She has taught from the beginning still stand.
You see, God is the One ensuring that the gates of hell do not prevail against His Church…it is not by the power of any of us simpletons. I think that is the biggest reason for so much angst toward the Church, people are assuming we credit ourselves way too much and not giving the credit to God. We Catholics know full well that it is only God who can preserve the Church.


Read what Jesus said in the parable of the tears and the wheat; that should pretty much clear it up for you.


But those two words don’t mean the same thing at all. One can easily infiltrate and NOT prevail.


I think this is a question whose answer depends very much on what one means by “Church” and what Jesus meant when he used the term. By Church do we mean the corporate body of individuals including the Saints in heaven, the group Paul calls the Body of Christ? Do we mean a system of official teachings,sacraments, and liturgy? Are we talking of the hierarchy from the Pope on down to the clergy, but not the laity? Obviously we are not talking about a building. In my opinion once the term Church gets sorted out we will be on our way to an answer. It already sounds that there are deferring concepts of the phrases “gates of hell” and “prevail against”.

I thought ten minutes ago, that I knew exactly what that biblical quote meant. Now I am only sure it did not mean that there would never be sinful or evil people as members, yea even hierarchial members in the Church.

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