OK, Clemente, I'm going to attempt to answer your questions. bare in mind that I'm not an ardent Protestant, though perhaps my previous posts might have given that suggestion. Truth is, I'm thinking about possibly joining the Orthodox Church, which is why my monicker says Orthodox Inquirer, and not Protestant or something like that. But I have a lot to figure out and a lot of ideas to sort through, and I can see an argument for and against issues like the ones we're talking about here. I'm a long way from knowing if the Orthodox Church is trustworthy and 'safe', so bare with me. I will attempt to impart my thoughts on the questions you have asked, and will appreciate honest feedback.
Why is it historically plausible to think an entire Church would enter quickly into heresy by accepting an error regarding the Theotokos without leaving a paper trail of opposition?
If anything the ancient Church believed about the Theotokos was heresy, it wasn't the ever-virginity per say, but what it and other ideas gradually led to over the course of centuries. I'm talking about the way, as it sometimes seems to me, that the Mother of God was exalted to near-goddess stature. I've talked about this in my Theotokos thread, and I won't derail the topic. But assuming the veneration of the Theotokos is
excessive to the point of heresy, I would posit that, it escaped notice for two main reasons:
A, Because it crept in rather gradually compared to other heresies which seemed flare up over night, so gradually that few if any noticed the changes in teaching and emphasis from the grace of Christ to the graces of His mother. The teaching of the perpetual virginity, which is attested to in the mid-second century, would only have been one step in the long process I'm hypothesizing.
B, Because devotion to and veneration of Mary, along with belief in the perpetual virginity, were useful in combating other heresies. So when Nestorius tried to butcher the authentic doctrine of the Incarnation, he wanted to call Mary the Christotokos. The Church, rightly I think, responded by affirming Mary's identity as the Theotokos. And the Perpetual Virginity, even if unnecessary, turned out to be very useful for affirming the teaching. If God were in her womb, surely she could not be contaminated by the seed of sexual intercourse. She was like the ark that could not be touched, and thus she remained a virgin. This also fits with conceptions some of the Fathers had about sexuality, that it was a result of the fall and not a truly natural human faculty, less than perfectly honorable and not to be chosen, even in marriage, above the great and awesome glories of celibacy, which was seen as the 'angelic state'. These are teachings I'm not naturally inclined to agree with, for the same reason I'm uncertain about the rest. I don't see these ideas in the scriptures.
If the universal Church fell into heresy regarding the ever-virginity, then you have one of two choices: either the the Holy Spirit did not lead the Church to truth, in which case, Jesus lied, or the Holy Spirit was impotent and therefore somehow less than divine (in which case you are rejecting the Trinity) or somehow ineffectual. Which do you believe?
Don't forget the Scripture promises there will be heresies, even at the heart of the Church.
"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears."
Acts 20; 28-31.
Paul also says this:
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head, even Christ"
Ephesians 4; 11-15
He said this indicating, I think, that the Spirit of God would eventually lead the Church out of errors and bring her to perfection, but no one in the scripture tells us that this process would be swift and easy going, or how long it would take, or what errors would manifest along the way. Perhaps the process is still ongoing. Perhaps it will take another 2000 years, or longer. Perhaps we are still the 'Early Christians' As C.S. Lewis suggested. Perhaps the heresies we've been discussing, if indeed they are heresies, along with all the schisms and divisions among Christians are simply growing pains. Perhaps one day we'll grow out of them.
Your line of questioning begs the question of your own epistemology. Why should we trust your (or my) private interpretation? Why are your interpretations of Scripture better than that which the Church universal believed "everywhere, always and by everyone"?
What you have posited is a real problem. How can we know? How do we tell what's right? The Orthodox answer is usually always, "trust the Church". But That's assuming that the Orthodox Church is really the
Church, and the only
Church, and has all the answers. Problem is, the Catholics make the same claim, and the Protestants don't feel themselves excluded from 'the Church', whatever it is. And everyone has their argument for how they can claim to represent the Church. How do we know?
Perhaps you think your Church's claim of authority more legitimate, and perhaps you're right. But the truth is, if my hypothetical scenario is right, and some of your teachings crept in gradually over time, then it means that your Church has not always and everywhere believed these things, but that from the beginning it was not so. Or if the true Church is 'invisible', not dependent upon Apostolic Succession and the alleged ecclesiastical necessity thereof; if these are merely human teachings, and not the design of the Apostles, then only God knows those who are truly His, and they will be His Church. And if many Protestants are a part of this Church, then of course there are many Christians and members of the Church in recent centuries who have not believed the things we are debating, not in the least, and their opinion would not be in the least less authoritative then that of the Orthodox Church, or any other.
In the end, I'm as confused as anyone. I admit, I don't have an absolute answer. How do we know? It's all a matter of faith what you put your trust it. And usually a matter of opinion too. God guide us.
Do you believe the New Testament Canon is closed? If so, why do you accept the Scriptures that a "corrupted" Church selected from amongst many more possible documents? Do you think Hebrews is Scripture? Who wrote it? Why is its inclusion in the Bible trustworthy?
Here is a list of Christian documents floating around during the time of the Early Church: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ The existing NT Canon says nothing about these books, so according to that which you are "sure of", we have no means to select the NT Canon. How do you do it without the Church and why is your decision normative?
I think there are a few texts that could have been a part of the New Testament and wouldn't have hurt anything. Some of the books from the the Apostolic Fathers or the Didache for example I think are safe, but ultimately they don't really add anything major doctrinally to the books of the current canon, and as such they were not really necessary. Ultimately, I'm less concerned about exactly what books are in the canon as I am about sifting out the apostolic witness from the mess of heretical literature circulating around in the times of the early Church. This of course means you want books that were probably written in the first century, and that have relativity early historical attestation backing them up as authentic apostolic works, as in, written by the Apostles and their close associates. And of course you're going to need them to agree about basic doctrine. I think the books of the New Testament meet these criteria, and the Apostolic Fathers and later Fathers of the Church quoted the current books of the New Testament more than anything else long before the official canon was compiled. So I personally think the Church did a good job selecting the criteria, doing the research, and finding the right books. The some of the early Protestant reformers actually considered re-doing the canon, or so I have heard, but decided it was fine the way it was.
I don't think the undivided Church of the fist millennium was just wrong, through and through to the core about everything. I simply suspect based on my observations that they let some non-apostolic teachings creep into the heart of their beliefs and practices. Then again, I don't know, I wasn't there. But regardless, I have faith that the books that we have in the current Bible convey the essential Christian teaching accurately, and if I'm wrong about that, then you're wrong too and our whole religion is pointless. I have not found that to be the case in my own life, so I'm not too concerned.