Change of Focus

February 11, 2010

New converts to anything are notorious for zealously spreading whatever they’ve recently converted to. I, like all the rest, have done my fair share of trying to convince people that Catholicism is the most reasonable choice available to mankind that ever existed. But a recent conversation with my wonderful RCIA director struck me. We noticed, people don’t convert because they’re argued into it. Although some convert because they married a Catholic and they just want to unify the family or raise the kids a certain way, other people convert because they witness someone’s faith and they recognize something authentic about it. I’m not even an exception, despite all the arguments Chris and I have had about religion. It was his faith, learning the truth about the Church, and experiencing it for myself that converted me.

On top of this revelation, I also find that I’ve reached a place where I’m tired of wasting my breath and debating with people who stubbornly insist on seeing things through their own myopic lenses, despite all evidence given to contradict their baseless attacks on the Church. I’m happy to answer questions and feel a duty to correct outright lies when I come across them, but overall I feel rather done with persistent debates. At least, that’s how I feel today 😉

What I’d rather do is figure out how to live my life as a Catholic. Right now, the biggest mystery for me is this whole suffering thing. Catholics are like no one else when it comes to suffering. They’re not masochists, no matter what anyone thinks about mortification. They don’t believe the flesh is evil like Puritans, instead they believe that everything is inherently good. Catholics see suffering as redemptive, because Christ redeemed death at the cross and with His resurrection, and redeemed suffering with His passion and successive glory. He even redeemed boring manual labor through His many anonymous years as a carpenter.

Exactly how is suffering redemptive? Well, I can easily see a few things. If our own God Incarnate is not above suffering, then neither are we. He gave a perfect example of submitting to suffering in humility through the events leading up to His crucifixion. We should imitate Christ in all things, and His suffering is not an exception. We share in His suffering so that we may also share in His glory (Rom 8:17).

Also relatively easy to grasp is that our resistance to suffering comes from the same source as our sins — our pride. Acceptance of suffering goes an awfully long way toward uprooting our selfishness, our pride, and the “right” we think we have for a “good life”. When we forget about ourselves, we don’t care about our own suffering. Christ defined love as giving our lives for each other (John 15:13), and this perfect love comes with perfect trust and no fear (1 John 4:18), and no harm can touch us (Luke 10:19). It’s not that we won’t encounter problems and pain. It’s just that when we reach this point of perfectly selflessly loving God and others, none of this temporary hardship matters. If we have no pride, suffering can’t harm us.

There’s a third, more mysterious aspect to the redemptive nature of our suffering as Catholics see it. This one is hard for me to accept, because it’s one of those hard to define issues that make Protestants gasp and accuse us of trying to earn our way to heaven and not giving Christ his proper glory. In our sufferings, offered up to the Lord, we share in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross in a very real way. We die with Him in His death (Romans 6:4), paying for and redeeming the sins of the world. I try to tell myself that it’s our mission as Christians to unite ourselves with Christ, it’s only natural. All good things we do are by God’s grace (1 Cor 15:10). All of our merit is through Christ’s merit. It is Christ who now lives in us (Gal 2:20), and we are a pencil in God’s hand. It makes sense… but I can’t see it.

I especially have a hard time seeing it when our entire household is sick for over two weeks straight. The flu, colds, ear infections — moaning and groaning ensues, not any thoughts of the redeeming the sins of the world. It all seems like a pointless hardship with no outward profit that we just have to survive. But I can see Christ in others who suffer graciously. It’s noble and good and makes us all admire them, because it’s praiseworthy. It’s good because God is in it. And that’s all that I can grasp.

If it is Christ living in me, how should I respond to suffering? He wouldn’t be whining about how hard His life is. He never thought about Himself enough to whine, merely to ask that His cup of suffering be taken from Him if possible, but surrendered to it anyway as the will of the Father. If it is Christ living in me, then nothing I go through is worthless, because Christ is God incarnate. Nothing that Christ does is worthless, even if I don’t quite understand how that applies to the mundane in my life. I do know that if everyone everywhere took this attitude, it would be beautiful.

So I think all I can do right now is just change my attitude. I may not understand it, but I can see that it is good. I can see that it is better to accept our sufferings and give them to God as a work done for Him, since all we do is done in service to Him (Col 3:17, 23-24). No less, then, is our suffering to be done for God. That would be funny, wouldn’t it? If we did everything for God, but nursed our suffering as some private endeavor, an injustice of the universe or Satan pitted against us alone? In which we think, what? That God is helpless or unwilling to rescue us?

Look at Saint Paul, as Rob has recently brought to my attention:

For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand… At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their charge. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me, that by me the preaching may be accomplished, and that all the Gentiles may hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. The Lord hath delivered me from every evil work: and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory for ever and ever. (2 Tim 4:6,16-18)

Paul had hardships and physical evils. He was about to be sacrificed and everyone had deserted him, but he still said “The Lord hath delivered me from every evil work.” How can he have said that? Because he was Catholic is all I can figure. We all may suffer much in this world. The only way it cannot harm us is if we are in Christ, and He in us. Then, no physical evils can touch us. Mysterious. I’ll first work on doing it, then maybe I’ll understand it better.

Hilaire Belloc and “The Modern Mind”

December 27, 2009

It’s a funny thing that Hilaire Belloc is now one of my favorite Catholic authors. When I ordered the books for Chris, it was purely to humor him for Christmas, several years ago. I didn’t really want to order the dirty Catholic books. And now, my recourse in times of intellectual exhaustion is to the clear hand of Belloc.

We’ve all dealt with people who insist that something is true because “everyone” knows it. For instance, Catholics worship Mary, right? And religion is responsible for violence and evil in the world, like Richard Dawkins says. And the existence of pedophile priests shows that celibacy is a bad thing. I groan internally every time I hear these all too common assertions. What’s worse is that most people, when confronted about the falsity of these things, continue to adamantly defend their baseless position. The truth seems to mean very little to them, and evidence is too easily brushed aside. More important to them is the testimony of others who “must know” what they’re talking about, or worse, what seems likely in their estimation of history and reality. All too often, people are content with the version of the truth that is handed to them on a platter or conjured up in their own imagination, with no critical thinking, investigation, questioning, research, or evidence. It’s sad to see this disinterested regard for the truth, and frustrating to engage it. Belloc writes about this invincible density of mind in his essay “The Modern Mind” (highly recommended reading). Some of my favorite lines:

“It is the spirit which lives on bad science and worse history at third hand. It is the spirit, not of the populace or of the scholars, but of the half-educated…

Its three ingredients are pride, ignorance, and intellectual sloth; their unifying principle is a blind acceptance of authority not based on reason.

Pride causes those who suffer from this disease to regard whatever they think they have learned, whatever they have absorbed, through no matter how absurd a channel, as absolute and sufficient.

Ignorance forbids them to know with any thoroughness what men have discovered about these things in the past, and how certainly.

Intellectual sloth forbids them to examine an argument, or even to appreciate the implications of their own assertions…

I have said that its unifying principle was the acceptation of false authority: blind faith divorced from reason. The “Modern Mind” takes for granted without examination a number of first principles — as, for instance, that there is a regular progress from worse to better in the centuries of human experience, or that parliamentary oligarchies are democratic, or that democracy is obviously the best form of human government, or that the object of human effort is money and that the word “success” means the accumulation of wealth…

Why is this mood so dangerous to the Catholic Church? That patently it is so, we see. It inhibits men from so much as understanding what the Faith may be, and bars the action of a true authority by the unquestioned acceptation of false; we can see it doing that every day before our eyes…

It is a peril because true faith is based upon reason, and whatever denies or avoids reason imperils Catholicism…

The “Modern Mind” is confirmed in its folly by the fixed idea that someone or other somewhere “proved” its errors to be truths and that the proof was final and obvious…

What are you to do with a man who always argues in a circle? Who tells you that some political arrangement is good because it is “democratic,” and when you ask (a) whether it is as a fact democratic, (b) why democracy is an evident good, answers you by saying that you are sinning against democracy and its holy name.

What are you to do with a man who does not recognise his own first principles? Who tells you that he believes a thing on the authority of a name or a bit of print, and who, when you ask him the grounds of his confidence in such, answers you by giving another name and another bit of print?”

When you decide to search for the truth, you may find that religion is not responsible for all the evils of the world, nor are science and religion at odds. And just because you can pull out a Bible verse to “prove” something doesn’t mean that’s what the Bible teaches. Also, the existence of sinful people in the Catholic Church who do not follow their own religion do not disprove Catholicism:

And priestly celibacy does not cause pedophilia. The profiling of pedophiles discounts any situational causes other than having experienced abuse as a child for the psychosexual disorder. Nor is the Catholic Church more rampant with pedophiles than any other denomination. In fact, it would appear as if the Catholic Church has a smaller percentage of pedophiles:

  • The Wisconsin Psychological Association’s survey found offenders distributed among the following professions: Psychiatrists 34%, Psychologists 19%, Social Workers 13%, Clergy 11%, Physicians 6%, Marriage Counselors 4%, and Others 14%.
  • US Catholic clerics (priests, deacons, bishops, etc.) accused of abuse from 1950-2002: 4,392.
    About 4% of the 109,694 serving during those 52 years.
  • The Center for Domestic Violence found that 12.6% of clergy said they had sex with church members. 47% of clergy women were harassed by clergy colleagues.
  • The Presbyterian Church stated that 10-23% of clergy have “inappropriate sexual behavior or contact” with clergy and employees.
  • The United Methodist research (1990) showed 38.6% of Ministers had sexual contact with church members and that 77% of church workers experienced some type of sexual harassment.
  • The United Church of Christ found that 48% of the women in the work place have been sexually harassed by male clergy.
  • The Southern Baptists claim 14.1% of their clergy have sexually abused members.

The above statistics are a good example of a need to think critically about information given. The statistics are similar, but taken from different sources and different surveys and ultimately testing slightly different things. They can’t be used to make a definitive comparison between denominations about sexual abuse. Instead, they only suggest that Catholic priests are not the only and possibly not the worst predators out there. It also points out that sexual predators find positions of trust from which they can find their victims. More shocking in the first statistic is the number of mental health professionals who abuse their patients.

I would have more people ask the questions “Is that true?” or “How do they know that?” when they hear proposed statements, read primary sources instead of third hand accounts and opinion pieces, and not reiterate common soundbite knowledge without finding out if it’s true or not. Until then, my friends, do your best to wrestle with this fog. All we can do is challenge the common knowledge that “everyone knows” and hope people listen.

In the Midst of Cradle Catholics

October 19, 2009

I’ve been a member of the mom’s group at our church for a little while, and recently joined a Bible study with some of the women. We had our second session yesterday and I was struck, as I was at the first meeting, by the strangeness of being the “voice of orthodoxy” in a group of Catholics, when I’m not even Catholic yet. All of them are cradle Catholics, and it’s really strange the questions I was getting asked.

The first session, we were sharing a little of our background, and when it came to light that I was in RCIA I was asked, “What’s the difference between Protestants and Catholics?” This completely stumped me! I mean, where do I start? I muttered something about there’s a lot of differences and we even use the same words in a different way. When pressed, I gave a brief synopsis of “saved by faith through grace” meaning different things for Protestants and Catholics. What I should have said was something along the lines of acknowledging the authority of the church through the anointing of Christ on the Apostles and their successors vs. believing that the Bible itself is our only authority. The question took me too off guard though. It’s good practice for my coming out.

At the second session, I was more used as a different perspective. This time I was asked, “So why did you convert? What made you believe the Catholic Church was the true church?” The real clincher for me was that the Catholic Church possesses the authority of Christ through Apostolic succession. I got it right that time, and thought I’d said something common to the group. Until someone said, “What do you mean? How is that different than any other church?” Uh… I tried to explain as concisely as possible that Christ instituted the church at the Last Supper, and sent the Holy Spirit to guide His Church in all truth, that the Apostles laid hands on their successors to confer the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that there is a direct line of those they’ve ordained from current priests and bishops going back to the Apostles and Christ. I felt like I was speaking a foreign language though.

The conversation took a weird turn, in which she said she couldn’t defend being Catholic at all. Her husband is not Catholic. She doesn’t know why she should be Catholic, other than she is and she won’t be anything else. Kudos to her for sticking with what she knows is right, even if she’s not sure why it is. That was always a problem for me when I was young. If I wasn’t as clear on my reasons, people could talk me into their perspective. This woman said she’s heard something to the effect of: Catholics just trust other people to figure things out and follow along uneducated and unquestioning. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to say that obedience doesn’t equal blind following and that we have to understand the rules of the faith if we want to grow in our faith at all! At least I had a chance to tell her, when she pointed out how screwed up the leaders of the church can be, that this is one reason the Catholics have it right. Everyone’s screwed up. We can’t let people we elect direct our faith because they’re so holy and smart. They’re not good enough. Man’s best is not good enough. That is why we trust that God is able to do His will and the Holy Spirit will direct His church through fallen and faulty men. Otherwise, we are just like the rest of them.

I wonder how common this is for cradle Catholics. I worry that not everyone who lacks apologetic prowess will be as resilient as the woman I was talking to against the reasonable sounding wolves that will question their faith. It’s a real danger for people not well educated in their faith, that someone will come along, point out a few difficulties (not inconsistencies!) of belief and *poof* they’ll turn coat faster than Benedict Arnold. It’s easy enough to see how it could happen. Chris has been scouring Out of the Labyrinth, a book “disproving” Catholicism which was written by an ex-priest who ought to have known better! It contains so many just plain wrong representations of Catholic beliefs, it’s no wonder people can show them to be unbiblical and persuade believers to turn Protestant. If you don’t know enough about what the Church teaches to point out the flaws of their arguments, what defense will you have except plain old stubbornness?

Chris thinks every parish ought to have a basic apologetics course available, on top of RCIA, since RCIA really only describes Catholicism in its most basic form. It’s a good idea. Until then, here I am, explaining orthodox Catholic beliefs to people who have always believed them but don’t know why. The leader of the group says she’s glad to have my perspective, thinks converts make the best Catholics, and says she’ll ask me many more questions. I hope I can do the Church justice. I’ve already found myself having a typical over-reaction against anything that smacks of my Protestant experiences, even when they’re alright for Catholics. The Bible study is focused on the Holy Spirit, and of course, there’s a lot of run ins with charasmatic Protestantism which I usually run from screaming. I have to watch myself and try not to let the pendulum swing too far off center. So pray for me, that I will say what God wants me to say when the time comes.

Good and Evil – Protestant vs. Catholic Definitions

September 28, 2009

“It is not an uncommon experience for people to talk and argue a great deal about something without anybody bothering to define precisely what it is.” ~Ross J.S. Hoffman

When talking things over with Protestants, I often find that at the root of a disagreement is a difference of definition. Catholics and Protestants alike believe “saved by faith through grace”, yet we have different definitions not only of “faith” but also of “grace”. Turns out, these un-noticed and assumed definitions have a huge impact on the whole of theology, how we practice our religion, and what is acceptable to us. So the key to understanding, maybe even the key to agreement, depends on defining what we say. Yet, as Hillaire Belloc notes, “We must begin by a definition, although definition involves a mental effort and therefore repels.”

With respect to good and evil, Catholics define “good” as God, or nearly so. All good things have their source in God, because His essence is perfect goodness, the very definition of good comes from Him. Goodness then, in created things, is seen as an adherence to God’s good purpose for them. All created things have good in them, because as created by and sourced from God Himself, from which no evil can be found, we find a good purpose for all things. Evil is then a “privation of perfect goodness”. Evil is only found in creatures as a departure from God’s good purpose and rejection of His Will, existing as a result of corruption of free will, not sourced from God nor an alternative demi-god, nor does it have any substance itself. Much like darkness is a lack of light, evil is a lack of goodness.

Although Saint Thomas Aquinas defined and explained these concepts in detail, he can hardly be said to have merely invented them philosophically. Anyone who reads his works will find them absolutely saturated with references mainly of Bible verses, but also of the Early Church Fathers. Drawing from his photographic memory, he doesn’t just juxtapose sound bites and create a meandering and flawed proof from them. He instead clarifies non-negotiable main concepts (such as “God is good”), using that to better understand more obscure passages, and brings it all together in a coherent philosophical system. This system is not of his own invention, nor does it depart from Biblical or Church teaching, but uses reason to better understand the necessary consequences of truths of the Faith. Because of this use of reason, Luther banned Aquinas, saying he imposed human understanding on divine revelation. This rejection of the philosophy that underlies Catholicism is where the faiths begin their divergence and is what must be overcome in most cases for Protestants and Catholics to understand each other.

When asked what evil is, Protestants may answer similarly to Catholics, that it is going against God’s will. However, here is a critical point, Protestants believe that evil has substance. When pressed as to where evil comes from, however, you may not get a coherent answer. Protestants who believe that Divine Providence acts directly in everything (not merely permissively) might say that God uses evil to achieve a good end, but that He is not the source of evil in order to adhere to the Biblical concept that God is perfectly good. Consequently, if God is not the source of evil, yet evil has substance, then it must come from an alternative source. Considering a created thing from a source other than God, out of necessity we have introduced another creator. This cannot be true, since Christians do not believe in multiple gods. If however, evil has its origins in our one true God, then He would be lacking in perfect goodness, a thing we already know He cannot do. The only rational conclusion is that evil is a lack of goodness, without substance. But those who reject rationalism may just accept this quandary of the nature of evil as a mystery of the faith, albeit one that has not been divinely revealed, but conjured up as a rejection of Catholic reasoning.

As a result of believing that evil has substance, many Protestants believe that some things are inherently evil and others inherently good, as opposed to the Catholic belief that everything is inherently good, but may become evil if abused or misused. This misconception as to the nature of things invariably leads to wrong attitudes and actions regarding them. For example, although the Bible clearly encourages a time for feasting throughout and holds as holy the union between a man and a woman, puritanical sects believe that our flesh is strictly sinful by nature and so they destroy the good pleasures that God has given us. Often Catholics are criticized for this Biblical delight in material pleasures, as if it is less holy to take joy in God’s creation than to make yourself miserable with self-righteousness. Ironically, monks and nuns are also criticized for their acetic life set apart for worship and work offered to the Lord, but that’s a different story. In her novel, Villette, Charlotte Bronte writes in criticism of Catholic enjoyment of life:

Each mind was being reared in slavery; but, to prevent reflection from dwelling on this fact, every pretext for physical recreation was seized and made the most of. There, as elsewhere, the CHURCH strove to bring up her children robust in body, feeble in soul, fat, ruddy, hale, joyous, ignorant, unthinking, unquestioning. ‘Eat, drink and live!’ she says. ‘Look after your bodies; leave your souls to me. I hold their cure – guide their course: I guarantee their final fate.’ A bargain, in which every true Catholic deems himself a gainer. Lucifer just offers the same terms; ‘All this power will I give thee, and the glory of it; for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If thou, therefore, wilt worship me, all shall be thine!'”

Charlotte Bronte’s character, Lucy Snowe, bases this criticism on a common false conception of what it means to be holy as well as an assumed disconnect between the physical and spiritual world, believing that the only thing of value is spiritual good, all pivoting on the definition that evil is a thing in itself and things in this world are either good or evil. You can see then, how different definitions leads to different understanding, different understanding to different actions, and different actions to deep divides. Even if we disagree in these essentials, it is imperitive to be aware of them, to define the real difference between Catholics and Protestants, in order to understand what these faiths are really about and therefore what we are really about.

Did the Reformers Have Any Right?

August 5, 2009

Lately, I’ve been reading St. Francis de Sales’ defense of the Catholic Faith, The Catholic Controversy. I haven’t read the whole thing, but so far, I think it’s the best defense of the Faith ever given. Chris, who’s been reading it recently as well, agrees. Almost all modern Catholic apologetics repeat his reasonings, but without putting things quite as clearly as St. Francis does. It’s almost as if modern apologists have given ground and decided to only defend attacks from opposing apologists, arguing on their opponents’ terms and giving defense only from verses, instead of using reason to state their own case un-apologetically. St. Francis, however, uses reason as a guide and faith as a basis to point out the errors of the Reformation and the truth of the Catholic Faith. Of course, he uses the Bible abundantly, but to show Catholic traditions as the only ones consistent with Biblical Faith, not strictly deriving Catholic beliefs from passages. I’d like to see more of that these days.

One of the cases St. Francis makes against the Reformation is something that has been on my mind quite a lot lately. I’ve been wondering what right the Reformers had to do what they did. This line of thinking would never have occurred to me years ago, in my Protestant mind. In fact, I had many arguments with Chris where I flatly denied any worth of appeal to tradition, or history, or the validity of any beginnings of the Reformation. I adamantly insisted that the only thing that really mattered was whether or not the Reformers were right to leave the Church and reject the authority of the Pope, not whether they had the right. I steadfastly held to the idea that truth was a rare commodity, held by a few faithful, sought and not found for 1500 years. I thought my insistence that everyone throughout history could have been wrong was akin to believing truth was something that couldn’t be claimed by a majority. But now I believe there are earmarks on the truth, ways to recognize it, not by a majority like I thought Catholics were trying to do, but by the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary authorities that God has placed over us.

Chris eventually gave up even mentioning history, but obviously I somehow changed my mind. I think knowing more history changed my mind. Reading the Church Fathers and both Protestant and Catholic histories of the Reformation opened my eyes. I found out that I never really knew how things happened or why, I only had a vague outline of events in my mind, usually tainted by the agenda of the historian telling the tale. (Side note: read primary sources! You’ll find out whether Augustine believed in the Real Presence when you read his works.) It is important to know where ideas come from and with what authority people promote them. Recognizing God’s authority behind things is a vital way to recognize His truth. It’s not enough to say something with its truth recommended only by your repeated insistence: “I’m right!” More and more, it seems to me that’s the only thing the Reformers really had, insisting they were right where the Catholic authorities were wrong, leaving everyone else to decide for themselves if they agreed. And by what authority were the Reformers saying these things?

The Bible often commands us to submit to authorities (Rom 13:1, 1 Pet 2:13). Luther insisted this was only meant for secular authorities, but there are other verses that seem to be talking about Church authorities (Heb 13:17, 2 Pet 2:10) and verses where Jesus specifically mentions obeying those in authority over God’s people, those in the seat of Moses (Matt 23:1-3). Biblically, obeying authorities does extend to religious authorities, and it would seem Luther said it didn’t because that was the only interpretation he could make consistent with his personal desires, beliefs and actions. Since there are religious authorities we need to obey, we need to learn to recognize both ordinary religious authorities (priests and rabbis commissioned in the ordinary way of laying on of hands by those already in authority) and extraordinary religious authorities (like Moses, specifically commissioned by God Himself).

St. Francis makes clear arguments that the Reformers had neither ordinary nor extraordinary authority to do what they did. He calls this right a “mission” that Reformers could have obtained either from earthly authorities or directly from God. He denies the right of secular authorities to commission a religious mission, which I think none of us will argue with. He says it’s rather ridiculous for the Reformers to claim any ordinary authority on the basis of their priesthood, since they operate in disobedience to their bishops and have rejected the Catholic Church anyway. So the Reformers are left trying to claim an extraordinary mission that comes directly from God. Now here’s the interesting part:

Throughout the Bible, there are stories of men on a mission from God. Consider Moses. God speaks to Moses and sends him on a mission, and before even asking for the ability to speak that mission clearly, Moses requests “patents” proving that God has sent him. God sees this as good and gives Moses three different miracles to attest his authenticity. Miracles have always been proof that someone is sent by God. If anyone who has walked the Earth should be excused from this proof of authority, this patent of authenticity that they are sent from God, it would have been Jesus Christ Himself. Yet, even Christ said that if he had not performed miracles, the people would have been right not to believe in Him. He was accredited by God through His miracles (Acts 2:22).

The Reformers had no miracles, so they had no mission from God. In fact even if they did have miracles, those on extraordinary mission do not overthrow ordinary authorities, they fulfill and uphold them. They had no legitimate reason to overthrow the ordinary authorities because Catholic beliefs do not contradict the Bible, they are consistent with the Bible, just not the Reformer’s interpretation of it which they had no authority to promote. Using Biblical standards, it’s rather obvious that the Reformers were not sent by God.

It’s baffling, really, how men could have just decided that sola scriptura is the only rule of Faith, then based on that alone overturn 1500 years of traditions that did not contradict the Bible. Was it really Biblically necessary to cut the number of sacraments from seven to two? Of course not. But sola scriptura gave Reformers carte blanche to interpret everything themselves and start from scratch. Beliefs and practices began to boil down to the personal insistence “I’m right!” in their interpretation of the Bible, without consulting traditions or authorities. History meant nothing anymore, and perhaps that’s why you never hear modern apologists talk about whether the Reformers had the right to do what they did. There’s a disconnect with and almost an impertinent disdain for history in the world today.

Today, Protestants defend the Reformation principle of sola scriptura and reject any ultimate Earthly religious authorities by saying men are fallen, fallible, corrupt creatures. The Catholics steadfastly maintain that the faithlessness of man does not diminish the faithfulness of God, so the corruption of anyone anointed by God can’t negate their anointing. Judas was still an Apostle despite his undoubted reprobate status. He still did miracles in Christ’s name and was sent out as one of the twelve. David was still God’s chosen king despite his treachery concerning Bathsheba. God’s anointing remains, despite our sins. The corruption of men does not negate the status of Christ’s Church as His Spouse, nor does their fallibility equate with the fallibility of the Church as a whole, since we have Christ’s promise against its demise. The Protestant reasoning behind sola scriptura sounds to me like invented justification to follow our own judgment, driven by fear of corrupt men and lack of trust in God’s ability to lead His Church, even though the Bible commands us to obey authorities regardless of their quality. Ironically, when warned against men who will lead us astray from the gospel, it is those who despise authority we need to be wary of (2 Peter 2:10).

If anyone accuses me of trusting in potentially corrupt men, I must answer that the man I trust is Christ, and I believe His promise of faithfulness to His Church, believe that only men chosen by God are placed in authority, especially in His Church, and that as well as having His Word faithfully conveyed in the Bible, He is capable of having the Faith conveyed by His visible Bride. (St. Francis has some things to say on the visibility of the Church as well. Great book. You oughta read it.) There is no reason for me to believe that Christ has abandoned His Bride to the AntiChrist or demolished His Church. There is no man that has come along with a new mission since Christ and the Apostles. The Reformers had no right, and I can’t consider any of their proposed beliefs knowing that the men themselves were not sent by God. If I’m Christian, I’m Catholic.


James Swan wrote Did Athanasius Have Any Right? in response to this post. I have heard many Protestant defenders say that Athanasius and the Reformers were doing the same thing and if you accept one you must accept the other. I wrote Yes, Athanasius Had the Right to show the difference between them.

Any Good One Liners?

May 27, 2009

In my evangelical days, I always heard to “have your testimony ready” to share with unbelievers. More often, in the Catholic realm, they tell you to be ready to defend your faith. Only a slight difference, emphasis shifted. In that spirit, I’m now on a hunt for a good one liner to explain myself once I do take the plunge and make it public with my family and the rest of my friends. I have to ask, does anybody have any good ones?? And can I plagiarize?

I know my family in particular will only listen to the first sentence I say before they begin to compose their testimonial sermon in response. They have my best interests at heart, are concerned, and want to urge me in the “right” direction. I don’t really mind so much, but it makes them rather poor listeners. So the posed question will be: “Why are you becoming Catholic?” and my pondered responses are:

  • Because I have to follow God’s will in my life. (leaves room for doubt that I believe these things?)
  • Because I’m convinced the Catholic Church is Christ’s church continued through apostolic succession. (maybe too long for their attention span?)
  • Because I believe they have the truth. (implies I believe my family does not have the truth?)
  • Because the Catholic Church is where I can best become like Christ. (shrug)

Chris’s favorite suggestion:

  • Because Catholicism is right, and Protestantism is wrong.

Everything sounds hokey or aggressive. I just don’t know.

When my dad recently asked Chris why he was Catholic, Chris had the chance to share with him about the Eucharist, and the Catholic view of John 6. He told him the Catholic interpretation makes more sense to him, refraining from using words like “right” and “wrong” at this point. My dad responded with a “Well, if it’s not in the Bible, I don’t believe in it.”


Maybe I’m expecting a flood when there will be a light drizzle. Either way, I want to be prepared.

Experience is Worth 1000 Debates

January 7, 2009

If I hadn’t experienced the Catholic Church first hand, I don’t know if I would have recognized it as truth. But then, I’m the kind of person who usually has to blunder through all the wrong choices to recognize the right one. Thankfully, God saw fit to bless me with a rather stubborn husband who dragged me along and argued with me persistently until I had time to experience Catholicism. Without that, I may never have found the security and peace of “Rome sweet home”. I don’t know if my own faith was strong enough to indefinitely withstand the errors of Joe Preacher’s theology.

Consider all the persuasive debates we can find online. Without seeing for yourself which ecclesiastical method actually works, it can be easy to think reformer arguments are logical. They have rote responses to typical Catholic apologetics, and without the wisdom of experience, these responses sound reasonable. Here’s some examples:

Catholic Argument #1:
You need an interpreter for the scriptures.

Response #1:
You have to interpret the church’s statements anyway. It’s not the source’s fault if it is misinterpreted, so it’s not the Bible’s fault if it’s misinterpreted.

What I think based on experience:
Yes, you have to read/know/interpret the church’s statements. But let’s face it, “You should never get an abortion or use contraception” is a lot more clear than random verses pulled out to support infanticide (such as 1 Samuel 15) or just quoting the ten commandments “Thou shalt not kill”, and then leaving it up to the person to decide when life begins. Practically, there’s a huge difference. There’s also a catechism, Councils, a priest you can go to… there’s just a lot more resources.

Catholic Argument #2:
The Catholic Church is unified, and Protestantism is fractured into thousands (the exact number is debated) of denominations.

Response #2:
Catholicism has denominations too, so their argument is stupid.

What I think based on experience:
Again, there’s a difference. On one hand we have eleven branches of the Catholic Church that agree on all the important doctrinal points and profess the same faith and plan of salvation. On the other hand, we have “post-denominational” churches, where Joe Preacher decides whether or not you need to read your Bible, what exactly you need to believe and do to be saved, whether you can lose your salvation, whether we should bring about the apocalypse ourselves; the list goes on. I consider all the start up churches with no creed or backing a separate denomination, because generally they have different doctrines. It helps that I’ve gone to the new church on the corner and found that out firsthand. It also helps that in going to several different Catholic Churches, I’ve found the same thing at each one. They have the same readings, the same catechism, and the same doctrine all over the world.

That’s just a couple of examples of how experience helps in figuring out what’s true and what works. So my advice is: Don’t knock it until you try it. I’ll leave you with this thought: God will not abandon the person who seeks Him with an honest heart.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matt 7:7-8

So Much Hostility

December 6, 2008
I’ve barely gotten my feet wet in the Protestant and Catholic apologetics blogs and websites, and I’m very seriously considering withdrawing from it altogether. There is an advantage to having a person explain things to you rather than a book, but the hatred flying about the place is almost too much to stomach. People aren’t much interested in understanding their oponent’s position before they try to blast it apart with ad hominem attacks and tired rhetoric.

Half the problem seems to be some sort of misunderstanding based in semantics. If we could all learn to speak the English language more precisely maybe there would only be five worldwide Christian denominations instead of thousands. Otherwise, there are very basic theological problems that this all stems from i.e. “Is there any good at all in anything we do or are we totally corrupt?” There can be valid viewpoints on either side. Why can’t both sides actually listen to the other side’s reasons and then say, “Well, that’s where we differ, I think you’re wrong.” What’s with all this “You’re stupid because you think that!”?

It’s not stupidity. I was in a Protestant frame of mind this side of five years ago. There’s a whole different language and set of concepts that comes with it. Now that I’ve had a “paradigm shift” so-to-speak, I see how different it is than I thought. I can remember how Catholics looked from the other side. It’s sickening, and I keep hoping that people will want to overcome their misconceptions. Time and time again, even my own family defers my hope. Everyone’s just out for the kill, trying to earn another merit badge or run up their soul count saved for Christ. Nobody listens.