Showing posts with label Road. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Road. Show all posts

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Road Ahead

This is part IV of a four part series. The others are (in order): Road from Unbelief, Time in the Evangelical Church, The Road to Rome.

Quo Vadis?
- Latin for "where are you going?" The apocryphal text "Acts of Peter" tells the story of Peter asking Jesus this as Peter flees the danger of crucifixion in Rome. Jesus responds "Romam vado iterum crucifigi" - I am going to Rome to be crucified again. Peter then musters the bravery to return and face martyrdom.

The event probably never happened, but the question is one that Jesus asks, and by extension, the Church asks, of each Christian. Quo vado? Where am I going? Where are we going? These are questions to be answered in our own personal way, but not based solely on our own impulses and inclinations (for often these contradict or are wrong), but on where Jesus calls us.

This language of calling is the language of vocation, from the Latin “vocare” which means to call. So what is my vocation? In the early church, and actually throughout most of Christian history before the 16th century, the highest calling was to some form of religious life: a monastery, the priesthood, etc. This, from fairly early on, usually implied celibacy, and it is of interest to note that various martyrdoms among Christian women were because they refused to marry. Yet what of today? The major division for men to consider first is between marriage and the priesthood.[1]

Though Holy Matrimony has been recognized informally as one of the core sacraments since at least as early as St Augustine of Hippo, and despite relatively strong statements about marriage theologically in the New Testament (though not incredibly abundant – the strongest being Ephesians 5), some critics from within the Church (such as Erasmus of Rotterdam) and sometimes dissenters from outside the Church (particularly the Protestant reformers – though these were primarily opposed to clerical celibacy and monasticism) made moves to re-assert the beauty and holiness of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Now, the reformers did not recognize Holy Matrimony as a sacrament, and this has led to the most elevated view of marriage surviving nowadays as being distinctly Catholic. The Catholic view is reasonably well summarized by a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

""The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws.... God himself is the author of marriage." The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. "The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life." (1603)

Holy Orders, for better or for worse, has been considered holy since the very beginning. Take this quote from St Ignatius of Antioch, third bishop of Antioch and a disciple of St John the Apostle, as well as by some accounts directly appointed by St Peter the Apostle himself:

Follow your bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father.  Obey your priests too as you would the apostles; give your deacons the same reverence that you would to a command of God.  Make sure that no step affecting the Church is ever taken by anyone without the bishop’s sanction. The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is one that is celebrated by the bishop himself, or by some person authorized by him.  Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as, wherever Jesus Christ is present, there is the Catholic Church.
(Letter to the Smyrneans 8:1-2)

Evidently, Ignatius is using a lot of hyperbole. However, the idea I want to get across presently is that from very early – this is written in about 110 AD[2] – the priesthood and religious life was held in high esteem. Now, all validly baptized Christians are part of the Church, and therefore partake of the “priesthood of all believers” – but this is a particular priesthood. Just as Israel was said by God to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6) yet still the Levites were selected as being the tribe with the particular priesthood. Strictly speaking, upon ordination one is ordained to the presbyterate, [3] and from there the presbyter (here on, simply priest) partakes not of their own human priesthood, but in the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. For human priests could not and still cannot offer true and proper sacrifice – but Jesus can and did. The priest offers not his own sacrifice, but that of Christ, re-presented for the edification of all the faithful. Furthermore, the priest engages in other aspects of the ministry of Christ through various other sacraments, such as the sacrament of penance where the priest in persona Christi becomes a visible sign of the absolution of sin, though the absolution of sin itself is always done by God.

One area where the Church would benefit from a deeper theology of women, as Pope Francis has called for, is in the renewed emphasis on female vocation to religious life. It has been my experience – and from anecdotes, that of some others – that the procedure for discernment of vocation to religious life for women is greatly impoverished in comparison to that for men. What does this suggest? In my view, it promotes the idea that the real crux and foundation for the Church is the presbyterate, which in turn leads to an outcry over a male-only priesthood. This is not the correct place to discuss this issue, so I will merely say that this deeper theology of femininity and women in the Church is sorely needed at present, to fully express the truth that priests are only one part of a very multi-faceted Church. The Catholic Church is blessed by God with the laity of all stripes and forms (single and married), the Brothers and Sisters, the priests (together with bishops) and deacons. Having noted that there is a very important part to play for women, I will now set aside the issue of particularly female vocations, because this is to be a blog post about my own calling – so I must omit female vocations as well as the single life (as part of the laity), to which I am by no means called.

If becoming Catholic was the second most difficult decision I have yet taken, this must be the first: am I to follow Jesus in married life or the priesthood? This issue is one I have been considering since April 2013, and it can rightly be said I have even been struggling with this since around June or July 2013. Like always, these matters are intensely personal and coloured by my experience. I surely approach this issue differently as a convert – and more particularly still as a convert with my unique background – to someone who has embraced the Catholic faith since childhood.

If it is not clear from my discussion of both the sacraments of Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders, there is no distinction for me in how holy one is when compared to the other. Yes, I am aware of the rulings of the Council of Trent on this issue (which declared that Holy Matrimony is not above Holy Orders) – but that merely reinforces my point, that both are on equal footing. If not based on which path is holier, why the difficulty?

My circumstances impact how I approach this question in all sorts of ways. I had planned to get married ever since I left primary school.[4] I have had a girlfriend for close to two years. I barely know other than from theory what a priest does. I am completely unsure I can handle celibacy – both from the natural impulses I have and because I have been variously told that it can be very lonely at times. I have no enormous taste for liturgy. I also am very much in support of lay people realizing and taking hold of their crucial part in the Church – the universal vocation to love and holiness, the commission to make disciples of all nations, and many other callings – and that message would seem hindered if I was a cleric, not a lay person.

My aspirations also impact how I approach the matter. I grow ever more uncomfortable with my affluence – even though it is my parents’ and not my own – and material riches, particularly in light of Jesus’ call to sell everything, give to the poor and follow him. I aspire to be able to love chastely, give of my time and care freely and not be required to dedicate myself mostly to the small group of my wife and kids. And I want to say fully to God “not my will, but yours be done” – especially in the call to missions. I deeply desire these things, and always for the greater glory of God.

For the close reader, the choice would seem clear: most of my reasons for marriage are circumstantial or arise from the fear of being unable to take on celibacy (that precious but difficult charism) and fear of not being able to be used as I want to be, on my terms, in the presbyterate. In contrast, the reasons for the priesthood seem eternal though still personal.

Still, the solution could not yet be trivially arrived at, for these paths are both callings in the Christian life. One ought not to assume that marriage or the priesthood are defaults, for both are things to which the Lord calls or does not. We are not entitled to marry another person – marriage is therefore not a right – nor are we entitled to the priesthood, which is also not a right. Therefore the question is – and it should always be this question – am I called to one of these paths in life?

The reader that knows how the Church probably already knows the answer, because my list of aspirations closely mirrors the vows of the Society of Jesus. Jesuits take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as a fourth vow of obedience to the Pope in matters of missions. If that hint was too subtle, that deeper desire to do things for the glory of God reflects one of the mottos of St Ignatius of Loyola and by extension of the Jesuits which he founded: “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.”

Am I called to the Jesuits? This question which I struggled with for about two months was essentially answered one Sunday. What happened was this: for about a month when I was considering the issue, the Sunday Mass gospel readings had all been of Jesus calling and sending the apostles, other disciples, etcetera, and one week even the Old Testament passage also - it was of God calling Elisha to take over from Elijah. Finally I was sitting in the parish of St Ignatius in Toowong (notable because this parish is run by the Jesuits) for the closing Mass of the ACSA conference, and once again, the reading was of Jesus calling to his particular service. Could I say anything other than “your will be done”?

For these reasons and with this calling from the Lord, I have decided to pursue entry into the Society of Jesus to become a priest of Jesus Christ. It has been confirmed by many people, some saying I pray like a priest, one even going so far as to say, perhaps not so jokingly, that I have all the makings of a Pope.[5] Do my fears remain? In part. I come to Jesus much like St Peter did when he saw Jesus walking on water:

“He spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

Instead of walking on water, I walk to the priesthood. Instead of sinking in water, I may begin to sink in hesitation. But God, being patient and rich in kindness, nonetheless says to me “O you of little faith! Why do you doubt?” Then my Lord helps me out of my uncertainty with the hand of assurance that truly he is with me until the end of the age. May I yet fear? By no means! For God who has brought me thus far can be trusted to equip those he calls! The Lord does not call people to be light in the world and yet keep them in darkness.
It is true that I am not entirely sure what the future will hold. In the short term, I am called to finish my university degree and perhaps even some further studies, all the while doing my part to help edify the University of Queensland’s Newman Catholic Society. Each Christian, after all, is called to be a beacon of hope and of the love of God wherever they find themselves. In the long term things are even more uncertain, since in taking vows I relinquish control and surrender (in a new way) completely to Jesus Christ who called me where I go. I must hence live by faith, and not by sight, as it was said so long ago. May I live ever more ad majorem Dei gloriam!

Written on the Feast of St Bartholomew the Apostle,
24th of August 2013 AD
Brisbane, Australia

Published on the Feast of St Thérèse of Lisieux,
1st of October 2013 AD
Brisbane, Australia.

[1] Vocations to be a Brother or a single lay person exist, though these days these are found less frequently. Perhaps this is a sad thing, because both roles enrich the Church – but it is a fact in present times.

[2] Some scholars believe that this is even earlier than some of the canonical documents now recorded in the New Testament – though this is by no means a majority view, and the consensus seems to be that one of the Johannine texts is the last, dated around the end of the first century. If not a Johannine text, then one of the epistles of Peter instead – sometimes II Peter is dated to around 150 AD.

[3] For those wondering why the distinction is made, this more technical term lies behind the word “elder” in many translation of the New Testament. It is therefore properly understood as being entirely biblical. There are historical and cultural reasons for the use of a different word in many early church documents, but the concept is nonetheless identical.

[4] When I was in year 3 or 4 in England, at Manorcroft, I remember telling my best friend James Alston that I did not want to get married, though I would probably have a girlfriend. My childhood idea of girlfriends was one of companionship, and as it was most of my friends were boys, so having a girl companion did not seem a top priority. I also recall, though I know not when this was, asking my parents why people who are dating love each other, but married people do not. But this attitude of my childhood left me as I went to Spain, and by the time I was in first year of ESO (secondary school) I reckoned I would marry.

[5] That is not, of course, my intention. Why would I join a religious order that asked me to vow not to ambition for higher office?

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Road to Rome

This is part III of a four part series. The previous parts are The Road from Unbelief and Time in the Evangelical Church .

Jesus calls his disciples to go into the deep with him.

Deciding to become Catholic was the most difficult decision I have ever taken and the second most difficult decision I have ever needed to make. I have spent a year and a half hearing how heretical Catholics are, how pagan they are in practice, how ritualistic they are in their deed, how legalistic they are in their teachings and how hypocritical they actually are. Throughout my time in the evangelical church community, it was clear that if anyone had a false gospel, it was those darn Catholics. They never read the Bible, because if they did, they would stop trying to pull themselves up by their own moral bootstraps, stop relying on their works and efforts to gain salvation as if they could twist God's arm, and stop their blasphemous practices of ritualism and idolatry. And I agreed with all of this, because I had lived for six years in one of the most Catholic countries in the world – Spain – and not once was I brought the message of the Gospel. It was there that I developed my anti-religious sentiment, and more particularly, anti-Catholic. Of what use are old rituals that do nothing? And truly, of what use are those old rituals when they change nothing in a person’s life? According to the census, I was surrounded by almost 100% Catholics – but I only ever met a handful, and they did not seem much different to anyone else.

I write this post with some sadness, therefore, as I know it is controversial. I suspect I will lose friendships over this matter, though I suppose I will gain others. I have come to see that all my criticisms of ritualism, idolatry, Pelagianism and so forth are false. With my writing this, it becomes public, and with my confirmation in the Catholic Church it will become official. But it is a short-term sadness, because I know also that to do as God wills is infinitely more important than to concern oneself with maintaining an image of conforming to a manufactured standard of theological orthodoxy given by Protestantism.

Before I give my reasons and tell my story, let me say something to my beloved Protestant brethren: and I know many of you love Christ Jesus our Lord. Seeing your faith is much like seeing the faith of the centurion in Matthew 8, who was supposedly an outsider, yet nonetheless had a faith that surpassed God's own people – similarly, though outside the visible confines of the Church, it is faithfulness to Christ that justifies and therefore you are perhaps in better communion with the Church than many Catholics. I have no pretence of somehow having been enlightened by my own wisdom to some higher level of understanding and orthodoxy, nor that I am better, more pious, holier or anything in myself because of this - though the grace of God has nonetheless moved me in this direction. Thanks be to him who calls the ungodly! Therefore, I do not boast of this change – for who may boast of grace? – instead ask that you would consider what I say, one beggar to another, testifying of his way not just to bread but to the bread of life of our Lord, given for our salvation.

For some, no reason could possibly suffice to become Catholic. The attitudes I mentioned above, ones I held myself, are so engrained that some may think my reasons well thought out and sound, yet nonetheless reject the conclusion. To such people one may truly only say “God help you!” For Catholics are the true Bible-believers, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in our own versions and interpretations of the Bible – though I myself have reason for confidence in my own interpretation also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in their interpretation, I too have reasons: converted to the very strongest form of inerrancy and infallibility, of the Evangelical church, a Bible believer of Bible believers; as to reading of the Scriptures, relentless; as to zeal, a detester of the Catholic Church; as to orthodoxy under the guidance of the Reformers, blameless.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ as he truly is. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I consider all else as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from knowing and merely believing the Bible, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own, calling me to his Church and uniting me to his Body. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

I have not attempted to engage in an apologia here in any substantial way – I will develop my reasoning elsewhere, including why I think Apostolic Tradition – comprising both written and unwritten teachings of the Apostles – is the correct basis for the Christian faith in its fullness. Additionally, why the stories of profoundly Catholic saints seem to point to the Catholic Church, from Justin Martyr to St Augustine (in whose writings the Catholic understanding of justification is to a large degree explained), from St Thomas Aquinas to St Bonaventure…and St Francis of Assisi, St Ignatius of Loyola and St Francis Xavier…I’m also quite fond of Blessed Peter Favre and many other saints of his order – more on that later. The list is truly quite long. Other pointers include certain texts in the Bible which are better explained within a Catholic context, a stronger stability of doctrine, as opposed to the enormous novelty that appears in other churches, and tens, perhaps even a hundred other reasons. I will focus on ones that led me to the Catholic Church as opposed to ones that now cement me in her embrace.

Perhaps the first nudge God gave me to move me towards the Catholic Church was my coming across the towering figure of John Henry Newman. Educated in the works of people like Thomas Paine and David Hume young in his life, Newman became a Christian at the age of 15, an Evangelical Calvinist who thought of the Pope as the Antichrist. He worked for the Church Missionary Society (CMS – still very much alive today), and during this time began to move towards a High Church view of ecclesiology. He visited Rome, which he thought of as a delightful city, but hated the Roman Catholic Church, describing it as “polytheistic, degrading and idolatrous.” Returning to Oxford, he started the “Tracts for the Times,” sparking what was known as the Tractarian (or more commonly, “Oxford”) movement, together with various other notable figures, including the son of the English Evangelical Protestant abolitionist William Wilberforce.

How did this figure become Cardinal Newman, and Blessed John Henry Newman? What did he see or learn? His own account of his Christian life is recorded in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, and I do not seek to summarize that presently. It is of far more importance at this point to ask what exactly I found in Cardinal Newman that put me on the path to the Catholic Church, and it can be summed up in a quote:

Meanwhile, before setting about this work, I will address one remark to Chillingworth and his friends:—Let them consider, that if they can criticize history, the facts of history certainly can retort upon them. It might, I grant, be clearer on this great subject than it is. This is no great concession. History is not a creed or a catechism, it gives lessons rather than rules; still no one can mistake its general teaching in this matter, whether he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines and broad masses of colour rise out of the records of the past. They may be dim, they may be incomplete; but they are definite. And this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.

And Protestantism has ever felt it so. I do not mean that every writer on the Protestant side has felt it; for it was the fashion at first, at least as a rhetorical argument against Rome, to appeal to past ages, or to some of them; but Protestantism, as a whole, feels it, and has felt it. This is shown in the determination already referred to of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone: men never would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it. It is shown by the long neglect of ecclesiastical history in England, which prevails even in the English Church. Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicæa and Trent, except as affording one or two passages to illustrate its wild interpretations of certain prophesies of St. Paul and St. John. It is melancholy to say it, but the chief, perhaps the only English writer who has any claim to be considered an ecclesiastical historian, is the unbeliever Gibbon. To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.

I remember wondering what that meant, what history had to say about being Christian and why it would stop me from being Protestant.

History was going to be one very key point of evidence, but at the time it was completely unconceivable for me to be Catholic. God was going to have to work through the thing I valued most in theology: the Bible. In particular, God worked through the Apostle Paul’s epistles, and concretely in this case, the epistle to the Ephesians.[1] If Protestantism has a patron saint, it is St Paul of Tarsus, so he was certain to have my ears listening. He wrote:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one Body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV)

St Paul informs us that there is one Body, that is, one Church (cf. Ephesians 1:22-23), just as there is one God. For all this, I could not even conceive of the idea of calling my church the only church, and nor would any in it, and yet there was supposed to only be one Church.[2] Even if we include all Evangelicals, which spread across various Protestant denominations, they amount to only 90 million of an alleged 2.18 billion strong Christendom.[3] Now, it is true that Christianity is not a democracy – indeed, truth is not democratic – and so mere numbers cannot settle theological disputes. Nonetheless, one can hardly claim there is one Church when 4.5% of Christians belong in very broad and loose terms to one’s own creed.

Very broad and loose terms indeed, because according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 denominations in worldwide Christianity. Many of these differences are probably geographic or liturgical, but by any reasonable estimate there are tens of thousands denominations that have begun over doctrinal disputes, and where some may be relatively minor, others concern the big questions of Christology, soteriology, and so forth. This hardly seems to be in keeping with the ecclesiology which was developing quickly in the early Church, the seed of which is given in the first epistle to Timothy, chapter 3, where Paul (or Pseudo-Paul) says to Timothy:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:14-15, RSV, emphasis mine)

In what way can this be said to be “one Body,” when so many mutually exclusive claimants exist? This first question, which came to me one day whilst reading Ephesians, has been raised by many others before me, and various Protestants have tried to answer it; indeed, it has been a problem since the very beginning. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, disagreed with the next two biggest contributors, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. For instance, Calvin laments in his Advertissement contre l’astrologie (1549):

Every state [of life] has its own Gospel, which they forge for themselves according to their appetites, so that there is as great a diversity between the Gospel of the court, and the Gospel of the justices and lawyers, and the Gospel of merchants, as there is between coins of different denominations.

To deal with this, Calvin established the Consistory in Geneva, which was set up to determine the theological purity of the members of his church in the style of an ecclesiastical court of sorts. In 1555 he was granted the power to excommunicate unworthy members, and in only ten years (1559-1569) one in fifteen were summoned, one in twenty five excommunicated.[4] Historian David Anders also tells of an incident with Jerome Bolsec, a convert to Protestantism who challenged Calvin’s views on one theological topic, and argued that he too was a Christian, he too had the Holy Spirit and consequently, he had as much right as Calvin to interpret the Bible – Calvin would have none of it. Private interpretation of Scripture is simply not in line with Calvin’s theology.[5]

The Protestant tradition is, in reality, an enormous spectrum of doctrines united not even under the Five Solas in its modern form, but holding loosely to Sola Scriptura for matters of Christian doctrine (Calvin himself arguably had a more "ecclesial" doctrine on revelation than this, but that is irrelevant at present) – I think, and this is my second point, that this is the problem.

I would object nowadays to the possibility of claiming infallibility for a fallible collection of books, as RC Sproul does[6] - especially in light of pseudonymity of various New Testament books, and the exclusion of various others, particularly the Protestant rejection of the deuterocanonical books. I would also defend nowadays that sola Scriptura is unsound biblically and almost nonsensical in the early church, though I understand that this view is not without its critics.  However, my second point is instead that “sola Scriptura” removes any semblance of the Church as a unity.[7] It is private interpretation of the Bible which largely produces the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations which fragment Christianity. Except some form of the Church must be visible, because if it is invisible, then it cannot be the city on the hill which brings glory to God (cf. Matthew 5:13-16, and see my commentary here, where I suggest that the Church is the city mentioned), and it cannot be the pillar and bulwark (“guardian”) of truth. The point I seek to make is somewhat less logical (in the sense of being the result of a chain of syllogisms or the like) and more a matter of faith:  can I trust God to bestow upon the Church the grace to remain intact and so enable her to actually be what the Scriptures say she is? If it is the case that the Church is the Body of Christ, that there can only be one and that the Church was to be the guardian of truth, then I think that I should be able to trust God to keep some kind of existent Church which is not made up of mutually exclusive parts.

This leads me back to my first point about history and John Henry Newman. The point was very well put by Peter Kreeft, and I am going to borrow his thought experiment in the modified way that I found convincing: on the Presbyterian view, the Church may have started off as “the Catholic Church” (see writings of Ignatius of Antioch for first recorded use in 110 AD, which is even before the finishing of the canonical books by the dating of some scholars), but it slowly picked up more and more heresies until Luther came along and “got rid of barnacles,” so to speak. Luther then returned Christendom to the undefiled days of the early church without any later Catholic additions. All one would have to do, therefore, to assess whether the real Church is Catholic or Protestant, would be to check out whether the early church was Catholic or Protestant.[8] To my mind, this matter is settled conclusively: every distinctively Catholic “heresy,” either existed in the Church or the seed was unmistakably there.[9]

The Catholic Church is the only one that can reasonably claim to have existed since the time of Christ.[10] Nonetheless, it is common in any movement with Christian roots (Protestants being the closest to these roots, but Mormonism and Jehovah Witnesses are also Christian derivatives) to have some sort corruption theory, by which the Church began to decay after the Apostles died or sometime after that, and the leader of the new movement brings undefiled and true Christianity back again.[11] The Mormons have such a prophet in Joseph Smith Jr., who claims to restore Christianity to the apostolic church; Protestants have similar figures in Martin Luther and other reformers. There are Catholic restorationist movements, of course, but they (since they are Catholic ones) do not break from the Church, instead they attempt to restore if from within. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement probably falls into this category. Having said that, not only are the break-away restorationist movements dubious simply because of their lateness, but they end up being mostly unlike the early Church anyway.

Why bother with the early Church, though? The theology of the early Church is important to me because it was the church in the first four centuries of Christianity which changed the Western world.[12] It was the kerygma of that Church which led to the incredible and unparalleled evangelisation, which suffered under various Roman persecutions (even if the idea of constant persecution from Jesus’ death to Constantine is somewhat mythical) and endured the scorn of Jews, Greeks and Romans alike. This was the Church which, once being fed to the lions in Rome, came to non-violently conquer Rome spiritually. Therefore, this is true Christianity, which transforms sinful persons into willing servants of God, at least by the criteria of “bearing good fruit” that Jesus gives. If that transforming Gospel was Catholic – and I contend the early Church’s Gospel was effectively the Catholic one – then as far as I am concerned, that is the true Gospel.

I said I would not attack sola Scriptura as being unbiblical and ahistorical, but I ought to make one point: if one is to bow down solely to the Word of God, one better have a good idea what that Word is. Even if I grant that the consensus of the faithful is essentially enough to establish which books are inspired and which are not, it remains to be seen why one can simply remove seven books from the canon. Those who desire to be faithful to the Bible must, I imagine, be faithful to what the Bible is without making it what one would like it to be – because if one crafts one’s own Bible, one does not believe God but simply in oneself. The Bible throughout all Church history, however, by overwhelming consensus of the Church Fathers is that the deuterocanonical books are part of Scripture.[13] I mention this because one rather important step for me was first seeing how much the Church Fathers quoted these seven mysterious “other” books as authoritative, and then also reading from the second chapter of the book of Wisdom. The account is eerily similar to Matthew’s gospel’s account of the passion. Wisdom 2 is the sort of incredibly Christological part of the Old Testament that makes it clear that truly, the Scriptures testify about Jesus.

I thus far have, I think, established that sola Scriptura leads to disunity in the Church (a problem since the beginning of this doctrine) and have argued that this lack of unity invalidates Protestant claims to being a proper church. Though I myself have not included all of the discussion of these issues, anyone who bothers to read the works I have cited will understand, at least, my position. Furthermore, I proposed that true Christianity was that Christianity which transformed the West, and that it was quite clearly Catholic.

One final point remains for me indispensable: any real Evangelical Christian places a great emphasis on doctrinal purity,[14] and earnestly seeks answers either from their pastors or from the Bible. Now, being a highly individualistic person (unfortunately, I might add) and since I believed fervently, before the vaguest idea of my entering the Catholic Church had passed through my mind, in the doctrine of sola Scriptura, I had to check out all these claims for myself. For this reason, I have spent long nights reading the Scriptures, I have spent great lengths of time engaging with Biblical scholarship and more academic forms of theology. In the process I have learnt an enormous deal, I can understand far more ancient Greek than is normal (though I still do not understand very much at all), I am somewhat able to date the books of the New Testament by the usual critical methods scholars use today. I became relatively proficient in historical and form criticism – though any scholar would of course surpass me. More in the realm of theology, I discussed and argued endlessly with whoever would talk to me about it on issues of theological interest to me, ever wishing to ground my theological views in the very words of the Bible. Nothing was assumed, everything could be challenged and had to live up to what the Bible said.

By all accounts I have heard, though I am no expert on the person, there has been another figure that experienced something analogous though not identical to me: Martin Luther. The basic understanding I have been given tells of a man, an Augustinian monk, who could not keep the requirements imposed upon him, who was unable to “meet the Law’s demands.” Though he tried, though “his zeal no respite [knew]” he could not live up to the standard. Then he discovered he did not have to, in fact, that the Gospel essentially said he could not be good no matter how hard he tried – though he could through God’s grace. Certainly, he could do good things,[15] but being good is more than doing good things – being good refers to essence, not actions.

This experiential aspect is my third point, succinctly stated thus: by my own actions and zeal, I still seem incapable of being doctrinally orthodox. I can try and try, but I will probably always be wrong on many core issues on my own strength – something problematic if salvation involves a cognitive aspect. It seems to be the case that Luther understood salvation erroneously as an Augustinian monk, as if he had to earn his way to heaven, in short, a works-centred salvation. The analogy is particularly poignant because in many ways Protestantism (at least the form in which I was immersed) has a very orthodoxy-centred view of salvation: you could not be saved if one believed the wrong things, for instance –atheists  could not be saved, people who denied the divinity of Christ (like Jehovah Witnesses, or other Unitarians) could not be saved…one is required to believe “the Gospel” to be saved, and that is, in my view, an orthodoxy-centred view of salvation. For this reason, I suspect I will receive objections to my coming to the Church that are doctrinal in nature.[16] Nonetheless, I cannot on my own strength know what the Gospel is: I need someone to tell me.

Now, if that person is a Bible study leader or pastor, then that person must have some sort of teaching authority – which is effectively the Catholic Church’s claim in her Magisterium. If one rejects all such authorities except for the Scriptures, the Gospel can and does become a matter of personal interpretation. The obvious response is that the required guiding voice is the Holy Spirit – and indeed it is. Yet the Holy Spirit, I think, has used the Catholic Church as her means, and though the Holy Spirit obviously acts outside the Church, the diversity of theological views on any given topic clearly testifies that there is no clarity or infallibility guaranteed outside the Church. The words of St Augustine ring extremely true for me when he says that he would not have believed the Gospel except on the authority of the Catholic Church.[17] I require a living voice to tell me “this is what is true” and distinguish it from my own “this is what I think may be is true.”[18]

This living voice is actually also a voice against relativism. In what can perhaps aptly (though dramatically) be called doctrinal angst, I began to wonder whether I can be certain about anything at all in Christianity. Even if I thought that the Bible was infallible and inerrant, it seems that there is no mutual basis for agreement on what that implies: there were some who originally denied that Christ was equal and “ὁμοούσιος” (consubstantial) with the Father apparently on biblical grounds, and various scholars of the New Testament say this is the teaching of St Paul. How do I declare this a heresy? I can find support for such a position in the Bible (see Romans 1, or John 14:28, 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, etc.), yet I have been repeatedly told that Christ is not only divine but equal with the Father. It is not even by overwhelming consensus of the Church Fathers that one may hold to the commonly held Trinitarian view, as before the Council of Nicea which formally defined the doctrine of the Trinity, it is unclear whether the Church as a whole believed such a dogma, and almost certain that she did not believe it in the refined Nicene form. [19]

Most, though not all, seem to agree on the Nicene formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, yet if I appeal solely to the Bible, how am I to know that there will not be a new interpretation of the Bible that completely overthrows traditional Christian understandings? If I rely simply on my ability to exegete, then perhaps there will be somebody who convinces many that their interpretation is correct. Whether or not such a person shall come is beside the point, what matters is that such a person could come – and if they could (the Reformation and subsequent history being a demonstration that it can) then I cannot be certain of anything in Christianity, not even what the precepts of Christianity are even if it were not true. I would instead have to remain in the realm of “probably” and “that is my current understanding” – even about the Trinity, since there are various ‘Christian’ groups which advocate some form of Arianism or Semi-Arianism.

Thus, it is within a Catholic context that I may bridge the “interpretive gap” – the Scripture is a true authority only when there is some means by which truth can be extracted from it, or in other words, some reason why the interpretation is just as divine as the divine words themselves. If the Word of God was, for instance, in Swahili, it would be of no use to me without an interpreter or translator: and in the analogous case we have in reality, the Holy Spirit acting through the Church is that interpreter.

In summary, my reasons have been essentially three: the Catholic Church provides unity and certainty by means of the Apostolic Tradition (both written in Scripture and orally transmitted), dates back to the first century and is thus, with the Eastern Orthodox Church, the only candidate for being the true “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” and because having a clear certainty arising from the Magisterium of the Church in interpreting the Scriptures, I no longer have to feel the weight of remaining orthodox of my own accord and can indeed be certain of the Christian faith. I shall be confirmed, God willing, into the Catholic Church on the 27th of October, 2013 AD, and from thence I will be a Catholic Christian. In the much more succinct words of my brother in the Lord, St Augustine of Hippo:

"[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church's] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15-17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called 'Catholic,' when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house"[20]

Promulgated on the Feast of St Jerome,
30th of September 2013 AD,
Brisbane, Queensland.

[1] Strictly speaking, since I do not think the epistle to the Ephesians was written by St Paul, I should refer simply to “the author of Ephesians” – but I will substitute Paul instead of that cumbersome phrase. It does not change my point about him being patron saint, since the Calvinist version of the doctrine of predestination can be read into Ephesians 1, and Ephesians 2:1-10 has a strong statement of salvation by grace alone which is sometimes used against straw-men of Catholic teaching.

[2] Though the New Testament uses the word “Church” in plural at times, it does not mean there are many Bodies of Christ. I suggest that the term “congregation” is a better translation in many instances of the Greek ekklēsia.

[3] Statistic taken from the Pew Forum report accessed: []

[4] “The Consistory of Geneva, 1559-1569,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 38 (1976): 467-484, cited in Anders, accessed 16/09/2013 <>

[5] Anders, ibid.

[6] R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology, p. 58.

[7] For an Evangelical treatment of the topic, particularly using a case study in South Africa:
Dreyer, Y., Zeindler, M., Case-Winters, A., Sadananda, R. & Weinrich, M., 2013, ‘Sola Scriptura: Hindrance or catalyst for church unity?’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 69(1), Art. #2000, 8 pages.
For a more scholarly treatment of Protestantism’s issues surrounding unity, again from a Protestant perspective, I have been recommended Alister McGrath’s Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, though I cannot myself recommend it as I have not read it.

[8] It is important to address why Eastern Orthodoxy does not feature in this dichotomy, for without the Eastern Church(es) this dichotomy is a false one: I am presently recounting my “road to Rome,” not giving a watertight argument for the Catholic Church. In my view, Roman primacy is sufficiently apostolic and the Catholic faith internally more coherent, as well as possessing more signs of being the Church of Christ, that it is the correct one above the claims of the Eastern Orthodox one. But I freely grant that the Eastern Orthodox Church possesses a powerful claim to the title of “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” the marks of the Church given by Nicea. Perhaps erroneously, I am grouping the Anglican Communion with Protestantism for now, though Anglicans too deserve separate treatment, and also have an interesting claim to be considered.

[9] Accessible modern defences of the “historicity” of the Catholic Church tend to be popular and hence not entirely scholarly. Having said that, for an excellent scholarly treatment of the role of Mary in the early church, see Hugo Rahner SJ’s “Our Lady and the Church,” and for the Catholic understanding of Sacred Tradition and its basis in history see Yves Congar OP’s “Tradition and Traditions” and his “The Meaning of Tradition” For an introductory but still scholarly treatment of the role of the Church as authoritative, see “The Magisterium” by Avery Dulles SJ. It suffices to read the works of St Augustine whilst trying to remain unclouded by one’s own desire to read in Protestant soteriology to see the Catholic view of salvation contained in his writings. JI Packer, an Evangelical theologian, has noted that the Catholic view of justification is essentially the Augustinian one.

[10] This is the point in my journey where, I must admit, for the sake of rationality I ought to have included consideration of the Eastern Orthodox Church, but I did not. I will only consider Catholic claims because this is my “Road to Rome,” and I only paid proper attention to the Eastern Orthodox Church “once in Rome,” so to speak.

[11] The Mormons have the death of the last apostle, usually said to be St John, as that date of definitive corruption, others leave it as late as Constantine. One reason I find the Constantine cut off point interesting is that the Council of Nicea, where the orthodox understanding of the Trinity was established in creedal form, got given conciliar authority is after that historical fact.

[12] It has almost undoubtedly been the Catholic Church which shaped the Western world from then onwards, but since we are concerned presently with the myth of a Protestant church with heresies slowly being incorporated, I use this narrower timeframe.

[13] Though the consensus was overwhelming, it was not quite unanimous: St Jerome is a notable exception, and an exception that Martin Luther relied upon to rid himself of the books which he seemed to dislike. They probably had too much free will in them.

[14] This is deemed unfortunate by some who prize orthopraxis over orthodoxy, but I still maintain that truly believing the orthodox Gospel necessarily produces orthopraxis. Whether good or bad, however, it is true that Evangelical Protestantism is so. Various passages in Scripture, too, highlight the cognitive aspect, such as Romans 10:9-10:
"If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."

[15] On many readings of Luther, particularly later in life, he seemed to think that practically all actions that we were able to do were sin – the best we could muster is to only sin venially. But that is irrelevant at present.

[16] There is no denial of grace here. I affirm that classical Protestant teaching and modern Evangelical doctrine both teach that faith, belief, and orthodoxy are all gifts of God’s grace.

[17] Augustine of Hippo, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus.

[18] Whenever I make potential claims to truth, people point out that truth claims are dangerous. This seems to be a good objection only if one is somehow bound to only believe things which are practical, harmless, nice or useful. On the other hand, the truth (whatever it is), seems to be ignorant of any problems it might cause: whatever is true is true independent of its utility.

[19] The Trinity is a clear case of a doctrine maturing before being defined infallibly, in this case at Nicea. For an excellent study of how doctrines develop over time, becoming more explicit, see John Henry Newman’s “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

[20] Against the Letter of Mani Called 'The Foundation' 4:5