“[The entire biological] evolutionary process depends upon the unusual chemistry of carbon, which allows it to bond to itself, as well as other elements, creating highly complex molecules that are stable over prevailing terrestrial temperatures, and are capable of conveying genetic information (especially DNA).” —Alistair McGrath
Atheists like to claim that atheism better predicts or explains certain information about the world and our lives than theism. Here we will consider the big one, which is evolution.
First, why do some believe that evolution favors atheism? There are several reasons. One is because evolution seems to include many evils, like animal suffering. Another is because people (some people) believe that evolution conflicts with biblical revelation. The third is the assumption that evolution is a purely naturalistic explanation, which makes God’s existence irrelevant to explain the development and complexity of life, not to mention the problem of evil. Otherwise, what motivates the idea that evolution is more probable on atheism seems to be a fundamentalist or “literalistic” interpretation of scriptural texts.
But all this is irrelevant. We are evaluating metaphysical theories and not religious commitments. What we are asking is not whether evolution is more expected on some reading of Genesis, but whether evolution is more expected given a transcendent and intelligent God. And if evolution is contingent upon a finely tuned universe (which it is), and if a finely tuned universe is better explained by theism than atheism (which it is), then evolution is ultimately better explained by theism than atheism, in which case the naturalist is not advantaged by evolution, but disadvantaged by it. It is only looking just at evolution (with challengeable assumptions) and not the necessary preconditions for evolution that lends any possible credence to atheism. A deeper look turns that analysis around.
“The “evolution” explanation . . . [is] incomplete. . . . First, contrary to popular impression, natural selection in a randomized environment does not automatically select for increases in complexity. In fact, recent computer simulations of evolution suggest an opposite tendency. I tested this myself. A few years ago, I wrote a grant-funded computer program that simulated randomized evolution, and I observed that randomized natural selection in my randomized environments tended to select simpler organisms, not more complex ones. I was able to generate some moderately complex structures, but that was only after I coded a very specific environment in which the evolution would “aim” for complex structures. In my randomized environments, by contrast, any initial organized complexity dwindled over time. As far as I am aware, all the computer-based simulations of evolution support (or are at least consist with) my findings. The result is this: the very existence of an evolution in which turtles, giraffes, and humans can emerge depends on a precisely fine-tuned environment.”
The point can be pressed further once we see that evolution is also inherently teleological, which is to say, it exhibits directedness and determinacy of fact or meaning. In other words, even granting Darwin’s theory as sufficient to explain the development and complexity of life, one cannot make sense of evolution, including natural selection working on random mutation, apart from there being directedness and determinate facts of the matter—namely, that certain things are selected for. For reasons argued by James Ross and Edward Feser (see here; also, Aristotle’s Revenge, chapter six), any such directedness and determinacy are not just difficult, but impossible to explain on atheistic ontologies—particularly physicalism. These are technical arguments, and space does not permit an adequate defense of them here, which means I can only reference them. The punchline, however, is this: evolution requires teleology in nature, and teleology in nature requires intentionality beyond nature (Aquinas’s fifth way, or John Haldane’s “Prime Thinker”), and all that is (quite obviously) better explained by theism than atheism.
Moving deeper into evolution, let us now consider the experience of pain. Atheists sometimes claim that this is evidence in their favor, particularly in conjunction with evolution, because it seems to include wanton suffering. I claim that it is not. Once we move away from the superficial analysis and look closely at theoretical details, it becomes clear that theism has a better metaphysical explanation for why pain occurs in the evolutionary process than atheism does. As Jim Madden explains in a recent response to Paul Draper, one of the main options (if not the only option) for naturalists in philosophy of mind is that pain is epiphenomenal—that is, the experience of pain is something that “floats atop” underlying physical events—a mere residual, if you will, that serves no useful function over and above the chain of physical events that precedes it. Why? Because what’s needed for survival just are the unconscious physical operations and not any qualitative experiences that came to be associated with them, painful or otherwise. But this means that pain, as a qualitative experience, really has no atheistic-evolutionary explanation or use at all. A theist, however, can give reasons why there might be morally relevant properties built into nature—for example, the fact that something causes a sentient being pain is relevant to decision-making: in some cases, we ought not do it (like burning a kitten to impress bandmates); in other cases, we ought to cause it (like punishment), even if they’re epiphenomenal.
Finally, a few remarks about challengeable assumptions related to evolutionary theory itself. The first is the problem of communication: evolution requires a channel to pass along adaptive traits—i.e., reproduction. However, evolution is supposed to explain the arrival of this (very complex) ability no less than anything else related to life. So evolution both requires this channel and is supposed to explain it—classic chicken-and-egg stuff—a vicious explanatory problem that is a problem in principle, not just a problem lacking any good scientific solution (also true). Here it should be noted that armchair conjectures of proto-replication are of no more explanatory value than speculations of proto-consciousness, since we are dealing with a phenomenon that is not susceptible to “fade-ability.” It is either all there—i.e., either something is, or is not conscious, regardless of how much is represented in any given conscious act—or it isn’t.
There’s also the problem not of organized complexity mentioned by Rasmussen, but of irreducible complexity as touted by Michael Behe. This is controversial, but just because something is controversial, that does not mean that it poses no problems to evolutionary theory. In this case, I believe that Behe’s work poses significant problems for evolutionary theory, especially the naturalistic mechanism purported to drive it. But again, I must refer to Behe and his critics to allow readers to assess the arguments for themselves. Space constraints, you know.
Importantly, if one is going to claim that his theory has the resources to explain as much as some other theory, we should want some evidence of this. So far, the evidence for the creative power of selection working on random mutation is counterproductive for the naturalistic hypothesis, since we overwhelmingly see destructive (even if beneficial), rather than constructive, results. Fitness, in other words, tends to be conferred by breaking or blunting already existing genes, rather than introducing functional novelty. The analogy is like knocking the car doors off to gain an advantage in speed: it’ll help in certain situations, but it would be foolish to think this process in any sense could account for the complexity of the car itself. And before anyone objects—this is not an argument from ignorance, but an argument from the best experimental evidence regarding Darwin’s theory (as cited and interpreted in Behe’s work). It is an argument not from what we don’t know, but from what we do know.
In summary, evolutionary theory, even when superficially considered, is expected no more on atheism than on theism. If God wanted to bring life about gradually, that is God’s prerogative, and no theist—no Christian, for that matter—is committed to a literalistic interpretation of Genesis. However, a more substantial analysis reveals a number of essential considerations to see which direction the evolutionary evidence leans, including 1) that evolution is contingent upon a finely tuned universe, which is better explained by theism than atheism; 2) that evolution is inherently teleological, which is better explained by theism than atheism; 3) that evolutionary pains can be given a more adequate explanation on theism than atheism; and 4) that Darwin’s theory, particularly the mechanism of natural selection and mutation, faces not insignificant theoretical and empirical difficulties, which seem salvageable only by the aid of intelligent direction (God’s providence). Again, more expected on theism than atheism.
“There is nothing wrong with asking the heavenly saints to pray for us.
Many Protestants argue that asking the saints to pray for us is “unbiblical,” while throwing around verses like 1 Timothy 2:5. But they are incorrect.
1 Timothy 2:5 — the infamous “one mediator between God and men” verse — refers to salvation, not prayer. The verse reminds us that it is only because of the graces found through Christ (God Himself) that we are able to have any real relationship with God and reach Heaven. It does not, however, absolutely negate relations with angels or heavenly saints. After all, it was an angel (Gabriel) that spoke to Mary before Christ was conceived in her body, not God Himself.
I was raised in several Protestant denominations. They all placed a major emphasis on Christians praying for each other — which is encouraged in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and other passages. I would contend that a heavenly saint, one who is holy and in Heaven with God, would have a lot more sway with God than a rebellious sinner on earth would.
To put that another way, if someone asked you to do something for them, would you not be more likely to help them if they were your best friend, as opposed to a complete stranger? Of course, you may very well be willing to do something for a complete stranger, but you would probably be more willing to do something for your best friend.
And there is evidence in the Bible of the saints praying to God.
“Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.” – Revelation 8:3-4
The word for “saints” in that passage comes from the Greek word hagios. Thayer’s New Testament Greek-English Lexicon says that the best definition of hagios is “most holy thing, a saint”. This would seem to undermine the Protestant assertion that “saints” in this context can only refer to people on earth.
Now, what would the saints be praying for? Themselves? Doubtful. They are in Heaven, so they do not need anything, as eternal life with God is perfect. That really only leaves one option: they are praying for us. And because they are praying for us anyway, how could it be wrong to ask them to pray for us about something specific? It is like interacting with a DJ at an event. He’s playing music anyway, so what is the harm in asking him to play your favorite song?
Here’s my Scripture-based defense of the practice that should answer most Protestant objections:
Matthew 17:3-4 & Luke 9:28-31.
Moses and Elijah (who are clearly heavenly saints, not “saints” in the way Paul would sometimes use the word) are with Christ during the Transfiguration.
The martyrs can talk to God.
From those three passages, we can gather that the saints in Heaven interact with God.
The angels and saints (who, in Luke 20:35-36, Christ says are equal to the angels) are aware of earthly events.
1 Timothy 2:1 & James 5:16.
It is good for Christians to pray for one another.
Now, if the saints interact with God and are aware of earthly events (and can therefore hear us), why wouldn’t they pray for us, considering that it is good for Christians (which the angels and saints definitely are) to pray for one another?
Nothing imperfect will enter into Heaven.
Psalm 66:18 & James 5:16.
God ignores the prayers of the wicked, and the prayers of the righteous are effective.
Because the saints have reached perfection (they are in Heaven), their prayers are more effective than the prayers of those that are less righteous, so that’s why one might ask them to pray instead of asking another Christian on earth or simply doing it themselves.”
(I went to Anglican pre-school. No harm. No foul. This was 1970, though.)
-by Michael E. Daniel, a convert from Anglicanism, is schoolmaster at an independent school in Melbourne, Australia, where he lives with his wife, Helen, and baby daughter, Lydia.
“I was born in the late 1960s and raised in the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church, being a member of the Sunday school and later the Church choir. Soon after I joined the choir I developed an interest in both Christianity and history. In addition to Bible story books, we had some old British history readers at home, and I devoured these. My favorite period of history was that of the Tudor monarchs, and this brought me into touch with the Reformation. These histories presented the standard Protestant apologetic, anti-Catholic line, and for the first time I became aware of the differences between Catholics and Protestants.
My preparation for confirmation at age eleven was the first systematic catechesis Christian doctrine and ethics I received. Two of the lessons stand out in my mind. The first was on the “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.” The Anglican church, it was explained, was a branch of the Catholic Church, since it accepted the three creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian), had the two sacraments (baptism and Eucharist), and retained the threefold order of ministry—bishops, priests, and deacons.
The other lesson was on the Eucharist, which we studied as we went through the Anglican catechism in the Book of Common Prayer. The vicar told us that although the elements still remained bread and wine, the faithful received Christ spiritually and grew in relationship with him. Transubstantiation was denied. I accepted this, but I remember feeling not entirely comfortable with it. Did not Christ say, “This is my body …This is my blood”? The explanation that this was symbolic language was not convincing.
Secondary education at an Anglican grammar school meant taking a course called Divinity. Here I first encountered theological liberalism. One of the masters, for example, questioned the Virgin Birth, suggesting Christ was probably the son of a Roman soldier. The liberal masters probably felt they were making Christianity reasonable to the modern mind, saving it from fundamentalism. Instead, it had the opposite effect: My classmates seemed to become even more contemptuous of Christian beliefs.
The religion preached by the school chaplain, an evangelical Anglican clergyman, was more traditional. His preaching and lessons included standard anti-Catholic rhetoric. So convinced was I that Rome was wrong that I remember being impressed with his concept of the “unity of Protestantism”: although there were many Protestant churches, the differences between them were slight; they were right on the essentials, namely, “the Bible alone” and “justification by faith alone.”
This instruction complemented what I was encountering in my evangelical Anglican youth group. The leaders reinforced my belief in “the Bible alone” as the rule of faith, for without this rule, Christians could invent any beliefs as the Catholics had done. They also emphasized “faith alone,” but, as I studied Scripture, that concept never gelled completely, since passages from James didn’t fit the matrix.
Sometime when I was in form five, a school friend who had become interested in Anglo-Catholicism took me to high mass at a leading Anglo-Catholic church. Anglo-Catholics are those members of the Anglican/Episcopalian church whose devotional life and beliefs are similar in many respects to Catholics. For example, they celebrate the Eucharist as if it were the Mass, with vestments, incense, and elevation of the host; they have devotions to Mary, benediction, confession et cetera. I was awestruck by the beauty, reverence, and transcendence of the liturgy.
Around the same time a new leader joined the youth group who was particularly anti-Catholic. He claimed Catholics were not even Christian and had to be rescued from Catholicism. Ironically, my Anglican father had chosen a practicing Catholic as my godfather. He had a good understanding of the Catholic faith and was able to answer my questions. I assumed Catholics were wrong, but all I knew about them was what Protestants had told me and what I had read in Protestant literature. Why not allow Catholics to speak for themselves? Their literature should not be too hard to disprove. What a shock I was in for.
Sneaking into a Catholic church, hoping I would not be seen, I purchased a few inexpensive pamphlets that were eye-openers. Catholics could actually present reasoned and intelligent arguments to defend their beliefs, and their arguments based on Scripture were just as compelling, if not more so, than Protestantism. I went back, got more pamphlets, and read them eagerly. Many of the ideas I encountered I discussed with my godfather, and his explanations underscored how logical and reasonable Catholic teaching seemed to be.
I gradually came to accept on an intellectual level most of the Church’s teachings, since they could be proven by Scripture. I was impressed by historical arguments, particularly by analyses of the writings of Church Fathers that supported Catholic teaching (to the detriment of Protestant interpretations). I realized that Catholics, contrary to what some Protestant literature stated, did not believe they could work their way to heaven or earn their salvation. This heresy, called Pelagianism, was condemned by Augustine and the Council of Trent. Both Catholics and Protestants believe that we are saved by grace alone; the differences were primarily in the relationship between faith and works (actions).
Justification by faith alone did not stand up to a comprehensive analysis of Scripture. It had been taught by no one before Luther, who added the word alone to Romans 1: 17, which should read, “The just shall live by faith.” Indeed, as has been pointed out in this magazine many times, the only time the phrase “by faith alone” appears in the Bible, it opposes the Protestant doctrine: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added).
The other important difference was that Catholics believe that grace is imparted rather than imputed-that is, the sinner is made righteous rather than merely being declared righteous. For Luther, man always remains sinful; when he was saved, Christ, as it were, covered the sinner with his cloak to make him appear righteous. Not only is the Catholic vision of salvation more merciful, it also explains the underpinning for beliefs such as purgatory, since most people die with imperfections on their soul that need to be purged before they stand before God, since nothing unclean or defiled can stand before the throne of God.
One text that kept coming back to me was Christ’s promise that the Holy Spirit would lead his disciples into all truth (cf. John 14:26). I wanted to find Christian truth, but where was it to be found? At the Last Supper, Christ prayed to the Father that his disciples should be one. Protestantism, through its insistence on the Bible alone as the rule of faith and private interpretation, in the belief that scriptural truths are self-obvious, had resulted in disunity. How could one logically talk about the unity of Protestantism when there are myriads of denominations, each of which claims it has the correct interpretation of the Bible?
Some Protestants attempt to argue that the Church, the Body of Christ, is an invisible entity, congregations being mere gatherings of like-minded believers. However, behind the New Testament writings was the presumption that the Church was a visible structure that had the power to teach. The visible nature of the Church and necessity of membership became increasingly clearer as I read early Christian writings.
As I accepted Catholic teachings, my devotional life changed. I began to receive Communion on the tongue (to the horror of the school chaplain) and go to confession. The impact of the rosary on my faith development cannot be underestimated. The hardest doctrines to accept were the Marian ones. I did not pray the glorious mysteries of the Assumption and the Coronation until I reflected on Revelation 12:1: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” If Mary is in heaven, I reasoned, then how did she get there unless she was assumed? Similarly, what woman other than a queen wears a crown?
As an Anglo-Catholic, I believed in the “branch theory,” which holds that the Catholic Church comprises three main branches: Rome, Canterbury, and Byzantium. The issue of women’s ordination, which the Anglican church was confronting, was a catalyst for me to re-examine the Anglican church’s claims. It was a departure from the constant practice of Christendom. Christ, at the Last Supper, had ordained only men.
Anglicans are by no means united on this issue. Although the Episcopal church prides itself on being inclusive, embracing a range of opinions and views, this impacts its unity severely. The situation could emerge in which one Anglican diocese had women priests when a neighboring one refused to recognize the validity of the orders of women priests. Furthermore, by ordaining women without the permission and agreement of the other two branches of the “Catholic Church,” the Anglican church was undermining its claim to be a branch of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.
At the end of secondary education I joined an Anglo-Catholic parish. Inspired by my love of history and interest in the ancient world, I enrolled in Latin and ancient history at university. In my second year, I studied late Roman history and this, together with other private reading, raised the historical faith issues, particularly through my encounter with the Church Fathers.
On virtually every issue they confirmed the Catholic beliefs that I held as an Anglo-Catholic, particularly regarding the Eucharist, the Mass, purgatory, the intercession of saints, et cetera. For example, when writing to the Smyrneans, Ignatius of Antioch stated that Docetists, a group of heretics who denied the Incarnation, refused to receive the Eucharist because they failed to recognize it as the body of Christ. The formal definition of transubstantiation, a definition rejected by the Anglican Church, was reflected in Ignatius’s teaching. So who was right: Ignatius-a younger contemporary of the apostles who wrote well before the formulation of the canon of Scripture-or the Anglican Church?
As an Anglo-Catholic I held beliefs that were a contradiction to those of my Evangelical past and the contents of the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles, which, together with the three creeds, are the doctrinal standards of Anglicanism. For example, Article XXXI states, “Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in which it was commonly said that the priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits.” Or Article XXII: “The Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardon, Worshiping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also the invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.” Article XXVIII forbids elevation of the elements at the consecration, procession, and benediction with the Blessed Sacrament-standard practices in my Anglo-Catholic parish!
At some stage while still an Anglican I had ditched sola scriptura or “the Bible alone” theory, since nowhere in the Bible does it state that the Bible is the only rule of faith. Similarly, the Bible grew out of the Church, whose members wrote the books of the New Testament and who compiled it. The canon of the New Testament started to take shape only in the second half of the second century and reached its final form at the end of the fourth. By this stage the Church clearly taught Catholic doctrines on a range of issues, such as the Real Presence, purgatory, and the Mass as a sacrifice. I f the Church was wrong on these issues, what guarantee was there that it had not erred in the formulation of the canon of Scripture?
My study of history and in discussions with legal student friends highlighted the necessity for any legal text to have an interpreter. St Peter’s second epistle itself contained warnings about misinterpreting Scripture and difficulties with interpreting some of Paul’s sayings. (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). Who was to be Scripture’s interpreter? Private judgement had produced a plethora of Protestant sects, and the Anglican Church could not arrive at a consistent position on issues such as women’s ordination.
But what powers did various churches have to settle doctrinal disputes that threatened their stability? How were Christ’s promises to be with his Church through all ages to be fulfilled? The Protestant churches simply splintered. By contrast, with Church councils and particularly with papal infallibility, the Catholic Church contained what could be called an emergency executive power. Reading early Church history, it became more and more apparent that the bishop of Rome enjoyed a special status. Irenaeus, writing at the end of the second century stated of the see of Rome, “For it is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this church, on account of its preeminent authority.”
I read further only to realize that the concept of development of doctrine was consistent with the definition of the hypostatic union (the belief that Christ is one person with two natures, a human nature and a divine nature) at the Council of Chalcedon, which employed Greek philosophical ideas to underpin the definition. If Anglicans accepted development of doctrine up to A.D. 451 and the first four Church Councils, why not accept further development of doctrine and more Church councils? How would one expect the Church settle further doctrinal disputes?
Furthermore, in reading about Chalcedon, my attention was drawn to the role of Leo I at this council. In his famous Tome of Leo in 449 AD he stated correct belief concerning the person of Christ and his two natures. The Council fathers voted to accept the definition he offered with the accolade, “Peter has spoken through Leo.” The realization then dawned on me: If the Church accepted the leadership and role of the pope and accepted that Peter’s office and prerogatives were passed down to his successors, and if the Anglican church and other Protestant bodies accept the first four Councils, then why do they not accept the papacy?
After years of study, prayer, and reading I came to know, without any doubt, that the Catholic Church was the church founded by Christ. It alone could claim continuity with the upper room at Pentecost. I sought out a priest for instruction and three months later was received into the Church.”
“Real friendship with Christ is only possible with the Eucharist. It was at the Last Supper, at the institution of the Eucharist, that Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants… but I call you friends” (Jn 15:15). In the Eucharist, therefore, the gift of Christ’s friendship is given, and His friendship is concentrated in it. All who befriend the Eucharist, befriend Christ; all who would wish to advance from servanthood to friendship with Christ must befriend the Eucharist, and all friendship involves ‘time spent with’. Quantity of time is important, and ought not to be neglected, but quality time is what matters most.
Find a friend of the Eucharist and you will find a true friend of Jesus.
What about those Protestant brothers and sisters of ours who’ve never received the Eucharist? We must remember that they are baptized like us into the one life of Christ. But for one, they have not been brought ordinarily into a certain depth of communion with Christ, which is alone possible through reception of this Sacrament. This distinction between the ‘field’ of communion entered into through Baptism and entered uniquely, more deeply through the Eucharist, is brought out by Pope St. John Paul II in Ecclesia de Eucharistia. He writes, “Incorporation into Christ, which is brought about by Baptism, is constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, especially by that full sharing which takes place in sacramental communion” (22).
Secondly, for those Protestants who have a relationship with Christ this relationship is indeed real, but it is only possible because of the gift of the Eucharist, and their relationship with Him, unbeknownst to them, flows from the Body of Christ, both mystically as visibly manifest in the Catholic Church, and sacramentally in the Eucharist. Any genuine relationship with Christ must necessarily flow from the Church and the Eucharist, even if only in a hidden and invisible way due to a lack of full communion with Christ’s Body. Catholics are privileged to be in full communion, direct touch, with Christ’s Mystic, and Sacramental Body.
As for the nature of the Protestant relationship with Christ, no doubt some Protestants are closer to Christ than many Catholics who frequent Holy Communion, but at the same time, keeping in mind the “full sharing” of communion in Christ uniquely accessed and partaken in the Eucharist, there is a certain character to the depth of this communion with Christ objectively lacking, and this is made manifest in the comparison of the caliber of those who would quality as “saints,” post-reformation, from a protestant point of view, and those who are Catholic Saints. The difference is startling. The Catholic Saints exemplify, and are living fruits, of good and perfect Holy Communion with Christ in the Eucharist. In the Saints, we see friends of Christ par excellence, and if we dig deep into their lives the Eucharist is always the bedrock of their life. An encouragement to make it the bedrock of our own.
To make our First Holy Communion is to be initiated into closer friendship with Christ. It is to be brought into the holy of holies of communion with Christ, the inner sanctuary of divine intimacy with Him, and in Him with the Father, in the Holy Spirit.
Those who receive their first and/or subsequent Holy Communion without basic awareness of this mystery into which they’ve been brought into, and without communing in reciprocity with He who is communing with their soul, are like senseless men stumbling around in a room, not knowing where they’ve been brought to, or who they’re with, and anything that is going on, just like drunkards in a holding cell, stumbling about. For the fact is, those who’ve received Communion have been brought into the inner sanctuary by virtue of their Holy Communion, since the Sacrament is efficacious, the Communion on the part of Christ is efficacious, but without the proper dispositions the reciprocal communing on the part of the soul is absent, and thus the gift of the friendship of Christ cannot open, cannot blossom in the soul. The friendship becomes one-sided on the part of Christ who calls such a soul “friend” who acts the part of a Judas.
It is quite the opposite for those aware of who they are receiving, and who open their hearts to Him. These receive the gift of Christ’s friendship in the Eucharist, and it is allowed to unfurl within their hearts, involving communion with the Trinity. This communion with the Trinity is experienced as friendship in Christ, in whom, and through whom communion with the Father expands, and the friendship and communion is itself the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who draws souls to Christ, to the Eucharist, and in and through Christ, in and through the Eucharist, to the Father.
To taste the Eucharist is to taste the friendship of Christ. It is to be nourished in communion with Him. To sit with Jesus in the Eucharist, in adoration, is to sit with Christ and spend time with Him. This is the time when friendship with Christ, received in the Eucharist, and nourished by its reception, is brought to maturation.
“I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25). To spend time before Jesus in the Eucharist is to enter the presence of “the Resurrection and the Life,” and here one is brought to life, one is raised spiritually into heights and depths of communion with Jesus. In Eucharistic adoration friendship with Christ matures, and really, it is here that such friendship is really discovered on the part of the soul. This should not surprise us because the friendship of Christ as gift, is concentrated in the Eucharist, and remains in the consecrated species of bread reposed in the tabernacle and exposed in the monstrance.
It is true, this friendship is alive in us, and so too is Christ who dwells within our hearts, but friendships only deepen by means of the ‘going-out’ of oneself to meet and encounter the other. Friendships deepen by means of renewed and continued selfless processions of person to person. In coming before Jesus in the Eucharist, in the places wherein he is reposed and exposed, we sacramentally—tangibly, as signifying our interior movement toward Christ— ‘go out’ of ourselves, and show ourselves as wanting Christ. This is why there is no substitute for time spent before Jesus in the Eucharist, because although Jesus is forever ‘going out’ to be with us, being ever present with us, expressing His desire and love for us, we struggle to do so, and nothing helps us to do so better than when we must really ‘go out’ of ourselves, by visiting Jesus to simply be with Him as a friend.
Those who become friends with Christ, become friends of the Eucharist. Those who become friends of the Eucharist, become friends with Christ; and those who become better friends of the Eucharist, become better friends with Christ.”
““Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia” were the words written in the comments column of the visitors book. I had just spent the previous half hour wandering around one of London’s most beautiful Anglican churches, All Saints, Margaret Street. My school Latin was good enough to translate: “Where Peter is there is the Church.” It was a short phrase but the words came as a bullet into my soul. In one sense it brought a sense of exhilaration, but at the other extreme it was part of a nightmare which I seemed embarked upon. The quotation from Ambrose, bishop of Milan in the fourth century, was a bit to close to the truth for my liking.
Conversion has been described as a dying process, and no one wants to die. In that Latin phrase were the claims of the Catholic Church firmly set before me, and it was just not convenient. It interfered with my future plans and contradicted what I thought would be a vocation to the Anglican ministry. But why couldn’t I just bury those claims forever? Had not some of my friends warned me of their own disillusionment with the Catholicism of their childhood? Had I not seen through the wishy-washy nature of what passed itself off as post Vatican II Catholicism? Anyway, how could an archetypal anti-Catholic be driving himself quietly crazy over Catholicism?
The root cause of this disquiet was undoubtedly the Holy Spirit working on a personality that since childhood was inquisitive and determined to get to the bottom of the matter. The Anglican claim to comprehensiveness never appealed to my mind. The idea that Anglicanism was a middle way (via media) never attracted me. People who walk in the middle of the road invariably get knocked down! However I was to discover gradually and painfully that Anglicanism was not a reformed Catholicism, but Protestanism pure and simple.
While some proclaim Anglicanism as a bridge between extreme Protestantism and Rome, I found it by contrast to be a side track, which for years kept me from facing the issues of the historical claims of the Catholic Church and the issue of authority. Anti-Catholicism can come in many guises. With many Fundamentalists it is based on stereotypes and ignorance. Within Anglicanism, there exists much anti-Catholicism of a refined and subtle nature. First we have the “intellectuals,” who are basically freethinkers in clerical garb. They might wear cope and miter, but their theology runs into rationalist waters. They object to the dogmatism of the Pope, his “oppression” of women and refusal to ordain them. His totally “unliberated” view of human sexuality and his “rebuff” to the divorced and the homosexual.
Then there were the old-fashioned Evangelicals, still breathing the fire of the Reformation, supporting missions to Catholics whether they be in South America or Ireland. An example of this is the Anglican Irish Church Missions to Roman Catholics. Under the patronage of the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, Evangelicals like these are firmly loyal to the Reformation and all it stood for, and deeply suspicious of ecumenical dialogue with the Church of Rome.
Out of this group has emerged more “tolerant” Evangelicals, accommodating of women’s ordination and divorce. They are prepared to enter into dialogue, and I well remember George Carey (the present (1998) Archbishop of Canterbury and member of this group) preaching in my former theological college about the Catholics having to clear their attic of junk. Subsequent statements by Carey on Catholics and birth control have been equally insensitive.
It was the inherent confusion within Anglicanism that led me to examine the claims of the Catholic Church. When I sought counsel on this confusion, I was told that the Anglican Church was comprehensive. As one shrewd Catholic author observed, “Comprehensive of men and not of Catholic truth and doctrine.” I was told that the differences between Anglicans were “tensions” and that in essentials Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics were agreed. I learned from my own experience that this was false.
I attended a lively Anglican Evangelical Church in Newcastle upon Tyne. The vicar, David Holloway, is one of the leading hard-line Evangelicals in the Church of England. There were about 500 people in the congregation, and Communion as the main service was celebrated twice a month. After one such service, I went into the church kitchen for a glass of water and saw the verger’s wife pouring the leftover Communion wine down the sink and putting the bread in the bin. This I later discovered was standard practice among Evangelical Anglicans, and I even knew of ministers who threw the crumbs to the birds in the churchyards. The distressing side to all this is that in the same Church there are Anglicans who believe that Christ is present in the sacrament and reserve the same communion elements for worship! To someone who had been exposed to the naked Protestantism of Anglicanism, this never rang true. I could not delude myself that the Reformation had been simply schismatic and that Cranmer and his cronies had not changed the Catholic teaching of the English Church.
Indeed at the time of my visit to the Anglican church in London that I describe at the beginning of this account, I had just visited the adjoining parish of All Souls, Langham Place. A thriving church of the Evangelical school, the curate there had informed me that because of the size of the congregation the bread and wine leftovers were thrown away. It seemed incongruous to me that the AngloCatholic Parish of All Saints had a tabernacle to reserve the sacrament, and less than a mile away it was molding away in a dust bin!
The logic and coherence of the Catholic position appealed to me. It seemed to stand as a rock in a stormy sea—just as our Lord predicted. Yes, there were dissenting voices in the Catholic Church, but they could not capture the castle. The gates were locked by the keys given to Peter by our Lord. All I could see within Anglicanism and “mainline” Protestantism was a nightmare world of doctrinal change. This change was not only the monopoly of the liberal, as even some Evangelicals were advocating the remarriage of the divorced, contraception, and the ordination of women. In parts of the Anglican communion, the debate was moving to the acceptance of “faithful gay” relationships and lay celebration of the Eucharist.
Even a conservative Evangelical such as John Stott manifested this subjective nature, when he decided to reject the idea of eternal punishment and substitute for it annihilation. Yet the same John Stott (clearly going against the tide of close on two thousand years of Christian exegesis and interpretation, which has affirmed the punishment of the wicked in hell) would turn in disdain to the gay lobby, which has “discovered” new meaning to the words of Paul on homosexuality! Such is the eclectic nature of the Protestant mind. John Stott and others may not realize it, but subjectivism and private judgment (the real hallmark of the Reformers) are ultimately the origin of theological liberalism. . . .
My one remaining obstacle was the role of the Virgin Mary. Why were Catholics, so orthodox in everything else, seemingly obsessed with her? When I heard Catholics reciting the rosary and endlessly invoking her name, it struck me as weird. I remember visiting the Catholic shrine at Walsingham and also visiting the church that some AngloCatholics had established in honor of Mary (it is regularly picketed by Anglican Evangelicals protesting idolatry!) and being left totally bemused. I can remember being close to conversion and entering a Catholic church where there was a shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I can remember reading the prayers to Mary and feeling inwardly repulsed. As an Anglican I knew very little of the communion of saints. As an Anglican I never had been taught that Mary was my mother. In fact I had been taught that to ask the saints for their prayers to God was unbiblical superstition and contrary to the teachings of the “reformed” Church of England. The Protestant in me took a long time to die.
A conversion can be an intellectual exercise up to a certain point, but then the supernatural element must take its course. There must be a submission of will and a becoming like a child. Questions still troubled me, but there was a growing conviction of inner peace that I had to convert and give it a try at the very least. So on Easter Sunday 1991 I was received into the Catholic Church. I decided I wanted to be in the Church of Christ, so clearly indicated by the presence of the successor of Peter. It was a marvelous occasion and the reception of my first Holy Communion a most wonderful and precious moment.
While there were many things within Anglicanism that I loved, such as the fine tradition of choral music and my family associations, I realized that I must not be like the rich young man who placed his wealth before total commitment to Christ. If a person remains within Anglicanism because of sentimentality toward a building or outward forms, he is in effect repeating the mistake of the rich young man. It is in reality a form of idolatry. The spiritual forces of wickedness will do all to prevent entry into the Catholic Church, and my appeal to all sincere Anglicans is to pray ultimately for the grace of God. At the end of the day, all true conversions can be accomplished only by that supernatural and unexplainable power.”
“In the midst of a wild theological discussion, some Evangelical acquaintances asked me what I had gained by converting to Catholicism. I had embraced Evangelicalism for about five years, but its theological and spiritual inadequacies contributed to my nearly losing faith in Christ. Catholicism restored and deepened both my faith in and my love for Christ, and in so doing it began to fulfill my deepest spiritual and intellectual longings.
Raised at first as a Lutheran and then as a Presbyterian, by the time I finished high school I nevertheless had become an atheist of the scientific humanist sort. Scientific objections to Christianity, such as evolutionary theory, had been my primary stumbling block. But within a year of graduating from high school, during a personal crisis concerning the meaning of life and after I had made a commitment to embrace truth whatever it might be, I read How Should We Then Live? by the Evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer.
His reasoned critique of humanism opened my heart to the gospel, and, recognizing myself as a sinner and morally guilty before God, I believed that through Christ’s sacrifice my sins had been forgiven. I identified my conversion experience as the “born again” experience I had heard so much about during high school, and my attitudes towards life truly began to change.
Schaeffer’s interpretation of Christianity left a decisive mark on me. On the positive side, I gained an interest in defending Christianity intellectually (especially through philosophy) and a fascination with the history of theology, philosophy, and culture. For this reason, he still remains a man I admire.
On the negative side, Schaeffer left me with the conviction that true Christianity equals Reformation Christianity, represented in the modern world by Evangelicalism. For the next five years I would assume, virtually without question, that Christianity stands or falls with Evangelicalism. However fascinating the Catholic intellectual and spiritual tradition might appear to be—and during the next few years I occasionally would feel a pull in this direction—intellectually I was convinced that Catholicism was an apostate religion.
Yet it was the expectations concerning Christianity raised by Schaeffer which ultimately would make my departure from Evangelicalism necessary. These expectations are best expressed by something Schaeffer wrote in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century. He explained that Christianity is the true and highest mysticism, for it is a personal relationship with God which is grounded in rationality. In other words, Christianity is a rational answer to the question of the meaning of life, one which fulfills man’s deepest spiritual longings and resolves his deepest spiritual problems. Two developments would lead me to conclude that Evangelicalism could not fulfill these expectations and that, if Evangelicalism equals Christianity, I should have to abandon the latter as well.
First, a number of emphases within Evangelicalism would contribute to my having a spiritual burnout. Second, I came to believe that Evangelical thought, based ostensibly on the Bible as its sole authority, was incapable of meeting the many intellectual challenges facing it. I would come to the conclusion that Schaeffer’s defense of Reformation Christianity had serious limitations even though his critique of humanism contained important insights.
Ultimately, and much to my surprise, I would find that it is the Catholic intellectual tradition which fits the glowing descriptions Schaeffer had penned of Christianity’s intellectual viability and that it is Catholic spirituality which most adequately fulfills the Christian mysticism Schaeffer hinted at.
After my conversion experience, my first Evangelical involvement was as a member of a Lutheran church. I remained as such for two years, when, through the influence of Campus Crusade for Christ, I left to become a Baptist. Looking back, I realized that part of my discontent with Lutheranism came from this: Although Lutheranism acknowledges the importance of doing good works, it seems more interested in consoling sinners than in showing them how to overcome sin. One of the benefits of being a Catholic, I have found, is a spiritual discipline centered around mortification and penance. This discipline is powerful in overcoming sin.
In the same year of my conversion, shortly after I joined the Lutheran Church, I became involved in Campus Crusade. At first Campus Crusade benefited me greatly, both spiritually and socially. Crusade’s emphasis on the Spirit-filled life helped me grow in personal character, and I was encouraged to spend time reading the Bible daily.
This I loved to do, and I became an avid student of Scripture, eventually beginning a personal study of Greek in order to draw closer to the meaning of the New Testament. In addition to these spiritual benefits, Crusade’s emphasis on evangelism and discipleship helped me learn to communicate my beliefs with boldness, and through the love and acceptance I found in this group I progressed considerably in social maturity.
I immersed myself in the Crusade way of life, evangelizing frequently and conducting small discipleship groups. One semester I led the Crusade group at a local community college. But the overall spirituality and practice of Crusade worked to inflict on me an intense spiritual burnout, almost destroying my Christian life. And this spirituality and practice, I would discover, is fairly typical of large segments of Evangelicalism.
The major cause of this burnout was Campus Crusade’s emphasis on activity. I found that the genuineness of one’s spirituality was measured by his involvement in evangelism and discipleship. This pressure created in me an assumption that, if I did not have a personal ministry, I was not living the true Christian life.
In many ways this would have a corrupting influence on me, an experience which, I would insist, is shared by other Evangelicals. For example, the need to find opportunities to share our faith and win disciples would lead us to develop friendships with people—Christians and non-Christians alike—for an ulterior motive: the practical goal of fulfilling the Great Commission. People tended to become means for us to achieve our ministry objectives and this because our lives were dominated and motivated by an activist cause.
Perhaps the most corrupting effect was the way this activism turned me into a manipulator of people. It was bad enough that I felt manipulated by my fellow Crusaders, but it hurt me more that I began to manipulate others. People had applied subtle pressure on me to become involved, and as I sought my own disciples I put pressure on them. The great amount of recognition given to those with a successful ministry further fueled this manipulation.
I fell victim to this syndrome because my life had become identified with a cause and my participation in this cause was my primary source of satisfaction. It has required Catholic spirituality with its emphasis on the path of humility and on the performing of quiet deeds of mercy and charity to begin uprooting these tendencies from my heart.
One might wonder what became of the personal relationship with Christ so tirelessly preached by Evangelicals. Certainly Crusaders emphasized the importance of this relationship, but in my experience their practical orientation limited its development.
Scripture became a tool to be controlled by the reader to develop his character and increase his ministry. Absent was the Catholic understanding that through receptive, loving meditation on Scripture Christ is conceived in our souls and begotten into the world through deeds of love. Even our praising of God was strictly active, as we looked for attributes of God in Scripture for which we could praise him. Absent was the Catholic understanding of silent, loving adoration.
As my burnout developed, I dreaded the very idea of discipleship, and my Christian life became strained. I sought deeper roots in the Baptist church I had started attending, one of the finest Evangelical churches in my area. Unfortunately, this church could do little to help me regain a sound Christian life for the simple reason that its spirituality differed little from Crusade’s.
It really should not have surprised me that this church should have the same orientation as Crusade; after all, Evangelicals define themselves as Christians committed to the spread of the gospel. Their defining characteristic and reason for existing is commitment to a particular cause. This was shown vividly during a talk by a professor from Talbot Seminary. He explained we were put on Earth not to learn to worship God–after all, he reasoned, we will worship God better when we see him face to face in heaven–but to evangelize.
Evangelicals are limited by the press of practical activity. The efficacy of their public worship is crippled by its subordination to practical activity. I found that Baptist-type worship is essentially the same as Crusade’s: The singing and other activities are structured primarily to encourage enthusiasm in the congregants (and to evangelize non-Christians).
Both Crusade and contemporary Evangelicalism are descended from nineteenth-century revivalism. A hallmark of revivalism was the belief that excitement was necessary to spread and revive the true religion. Often Evangelical church services are conducted as if they were designed for entertainment; there is never any dead time. The congregation is fed songs, novel prayers, and preaching, with no opportunity for contemplative prayer.
Catholicism subordinates all causes to worship. In Catholicism, the summit of the Christian life is public worship of God in the liturgy, in continuity with the worship of God in heaven by the angels and saints. There is an essential continuity between our lives in heaven and on earth. This liturgical worship begins in receptivity—that is, in contemplation, which is nothing other than receptivity to reality and to God—and ends in sacrifice as we offer ourselves to God after receiving him deeper into our lives through the Eucharist.
This worship overflows into all of life, even the most active life, for even the most active life is subordinate to contemplative and sacrificial worship. From this overflow all of our activity is elevated to worship insofar as we become living sacrifices to God, expressed through our deeds of love. Evangelism is one form of these good deeds, an act of mercy to the souls of others as we, nourished by worship, draw others through their repentance and conversion into the true worship and adoration of God. Through the examples of Catholic saints such as Dominic and Catherine of Siena I have been filled with a new desire for the salvation of others. But Dominic in particular has shown me how to evangelize in accord with my own abilities and personality—through my love of learning—rather than according to the legalistic mold of Campus Crusade.
Thus for me the greatest benefit of Catholicism has been the restoration of a deep relationship with Christ, and I learned this through reading classical Catholic spiritual writers and theologians. Contrary to popular opinion, Catholic thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas, always understood the need for a personal relationship with Christ.
They never used this term since, after all, even enemies can know each other personally, but explained instead that by justification we are made friends and lovers of God. And these Catholic writers understood what it meant to be a friend and lover of God better than any Evangelical writer I had ever encountered.
I learned from Bernard of Clairvaux and Catherine of Siena that the most fundamental form of prayer is the loving adoration of God, a prayer which exceeds the ability of words to express. Whereas Evangelicals often think of the Spirit-filled life as one in which the Spirit controls us, Catholic writers teach that being Spirit-filled means that, as we meditate on and contemplate Christ and the Trinity, the Spirit ignites our hearts with love, and thus we willingly obey God.
Evangelicals speak often of a relationship with God based on the gratitude felt when they realized that God loves the unlovable, but my gratitude and love for God has deepened as I’ve learned that God by his grace goes even further and makes us lovable in his sight. It is a commonplace among Catholic writers that God by grace beautifies the soul, adorning it with virtues; he does not leave us hateful to him, but dignifies us by enabling us through the grace of the indwelling Spirit of Christ to become worthy of eternal life.
The two aspects of Catholicism which Evangelicals most often claim are a hindrance to a personal relationship with Christ, ritual and hierarchy, have become for me a tremendous help in developing that relationship.
The sacrament of the Eucharist has created in me a deep awareness of my dependence on the grace of God. Genuflecting at Mass moves me to bow before Christ’s authority in all areas of my life, an experience which reflects the Catholic principle that bodily acts can influence the soul’s disposition.
The hierarchical elements of the Church have helped me draw nearer to Christ. Going to confession humbles me and helps uproot sinful tendencies from my heart. Obedience to the teachings and authority of the bishops and the Pope has helped free me from bondage to my own interpretations as the measure of truth. I believe my capacity to receive Christ has been deepened through this obedience. After all, Jesus said that whoever receives His messengers receives Him (Matt. 10:40).
Even though I value these spiritual benefits more than any other benefit, it was the intellectual struggles I went through which sealed my burnout and paved the way for my turning toward Catholicism. While in Crusade I spent much time in personal evangelism. As I shared my faith with other college students, intellectual objections to Christianity were hurled at me.
Being convinced that Christianity is not an irrational religion, I strove to find answers. I consulted commentaries and the writings of various Evangelicals to find solutions. Gradually, I began to find these answers inadequate and became disillusioned with Evangelical thought, wondering if my relationship with Christ was being maintained at the expense of truth.
The first category of intellectual difficulties comprised biblical passages which conflicted with Evangelical theology. For example, in preaching that we are justified by faith alone, I often encountered the objection that James, in the second chapter of his epistle, clearly states we are not justified by faith alone.
Evangelical commentators offered explanations of how this passage could agree with the Protestant interpretation of Paul’s doctrine of justification. I never found these interpretations satisfactory. I had the uneasy feeling that the passage was being explained away rather than explained.
Jesus’ emphasis on the role of works in salvation further disturbed me, while Paul himself never uses the phrase “faith alone.” In fact, the only time “faith alone” or “faith only” is used in Scripture is by James, and he conclusively rejects the concept: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Schaeffer’s influence prevented me from finding a solution to this problem so long as I remained a committed Evangelical.
Many other passages I encountered seemed to conflict with the broad outline of Evangelical theology and spirituality. This left me with a feeling of unease, yet I was hopeful that by trying to be more objective I could develop a more accurate understanding of biblical theology and spirituality. I was never able to do this while an Evangelical.
As I realize now, the narrow confines of Protestant theology had constricted my ability to penetrate deep into the teachings of Scripture. Ironically, after I began to read Catholic writers, especially the Church Fathers and medieval writers, Scripture began to make more sense to me.
Catholic thought opened Scripture up to me in a way Evangelical thought never could. From my Bible study I knew many Bible verses, but as I now realize their rich meanings typically eluded me. The truly decisive intellectual problem for me centered around the second pillar of Evangelicalism, the doctrine of sola scriptura, the Bible as the sole authority of faith and practice. This problem would involve me in epistemology, the study of how we can have knowledge at all.
Several specific issues gradually wore away my belief in sola scriptura. First, in my Baptist days I became interested in evangelizing Catholics, even acquiring materials from Mission to Catholics for this purpose. Seeking to find and expose the errors in the Catholic view of tradition and Church authority, I studied passages of Scripture used by Evangelicals in their polemic against the Church. Ultimately I found these arguments wanting.
Evangelicals argue that the injunction in Revelation 22:18-19 against adding anything to the “words of the prophecy of this book” secured sola scriptura and precluded Catholic tradition. But this “book of prophecy” refers only to the book of Revelation. This book was written as an individual book, not as the last section of an already-compiled New Testament.
Furthermore, I encountered passages of Scripture which positively suggested the Catholic view. In John 16:13-15 Jesus tells his apostles that the Spirit will guide them into “all truth.” This presented a dilemma for me. If we allowed that this promise extended beyond the eleven apostles then present, the Catholic understanding of Tradition and the infallibility of the magisterium would become reasonable. If the promise applied only to those present and to no one else, then many of the New Testament writers, such as Paul, could not have been inspired.
One could reply that the original apostles could pass on the grace of this spiritual guidance to others, but this implies successors to the apostles—and that is precisely the Catholic position.
It is not enough to say, as some Evangelicals do, that the apostles, such as Peter, merely approved what non-apostles, such as Mark, had written. If Mark’s Gospel was only “approved” by Peter, then that Gospel is only accurate, not inspired. For it to be inspired, the grace of the Spirit described in John 16 must have been passed on to Mark so he too would be inspired. Furthermore, this Evangelical argument concedes that it required the authority of the Church, with the apostles as its spokesmen, to determine what should be included in Scripture.
The challenge of secularism and atheism, from which Christianity had originally rescued me, still haunted me. I decided as I finished my studies in English to pursue a second major in philosophy, hoping to work through the philosophical challenges I had encountered while evangelizing. My studies began with epistemology.
Exposed to the scourges of positivism and Humean empiricism, I sought a foundation for response in the thought of Carl F. H. Henry, a leading Evangelical thinker. He did not help much; conceding much ground to empiricism, he argues that reason cannot prove the existence of God. Instead, all theology must be based on a single presupposition: the living God revealed in his Word. Henry presupposes the truth of (Evangelical) Christianity and proceeds to show the flaws of every other system of thought.
This question-begging not only failed to convince me, but it also showed the impoverishment of sola scriptura. Henry claimed his theory of knowledge was the biblical view, but it really stems from Descartes and post-Cartesian philosophy. It became apparent that in practice even Evangelicals don’t follow sola scriptura.
I had some familiarity with the historical defense of the authority of Scripture proposed by John Warwick Montgomery, an important Evangelical theologian opposed to presuppositionalism. In his view, we become convinced by historical evidence that Christ is the Son of God and that he spoke of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. This historical approach suggested Catholicism rather than Evangelicalism.
In the next phase on my studies I began investigating the thought of philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, Hegel, and Heidegger. These writers exhibited a depth of thought and, yes, spirituality I never had found as an Evangelical. Although I could not give up my love for Christ, I was taken captive by philosophy. Two parallel processes began. On the one hand, I moved in the direction of the liberal experience-based theology which originated with Schleiermacher in the nineteenth century. In this approach, theology is essentially reflection on personal experiences.
On the other hand, while doing research for my master’s, I began studying writings of the Church Fathers and medieval theologians and mystics. I was struck by the sublimity of their reflections on the Incarnation and the Trinity, for these doctrines–or rather the realities they express–were an integral part of Catholic spirituality, not simply doctrines that must be reluctantly defended, mere intellectual liabilities. I fell in love with these central Christian truths, but they were undermined by the man-centered spirituality of the liberal theology I had embraced.
Liberation from this new spiritual mire came though Catholic thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas, who had confronted philosophy and transformed it in the light of Christian revelation rather than retreating into an anti-intellectual ghetto. In doing this they were following the example of the apostle Paul, who exhorted us to bring every thought captive to Christ and who in his own preaching, as in Acts 17:28 and in his epistle to the Colossians, made use of Greek thought to communicate the gospel. This philosophical tradition helped me rediscover the reasonableness of the Christian faith and thus fulfilled the expectations raised by Schaeffer.
The final moment of my liberation from man-centered spirituality came with my discovery of Thomist realism, an alternative to empiricism and idealism. Three books especially helpful here were Ten Philosophical Mistakes by Mortimer Adler, Three Reformers by Jacques Maritain, and Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper. Realism allows us to reach beyond our sense impressions, unlike empiricism, and to be receptive to reality outside ourselves, unlike idealism. The receptivity of Catholic philosophy fully supports the receptivity of genuine Christian spirituality. Catholic philosophy and spirituality, I found, form an integral unity.
My spiritual and intellectual journey has taken me into Catholicism, where I have found the true and highest mysticism, in which there are no limitations to the depth of the loving relationship we can have with Christ, a relationship which allows us to live in accord with truth and rationality. Although I have only begun to grasp the riches of Catholic spirituality, I have no doubt that in finding Catholicism I found Christ in a more profound way than ever before in my Christian experience.”
-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.
“In John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, he presents a view of man that is very much like Luther’s but contrary to what we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Calvin used texts such as Genesis 6:5—“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”—and Romans 3:10ff—“None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one ”—to prove that man is utterly depraved through the fall of Adam and Eve.
Calvin’s conclusion from these texts and others was to say, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 26).
What say we?
The context of the texts Calvin used actually demonstrates the opposite of his claim. For example, if we read forward just four verses in Genesis 6, we find: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. . . . Noah was a righteous [“just”] man, blameless in his generation” (Gen. 6:8-9). While we Catholics agree that God’s grace or “favor” was essential for Noah to be truly “just” before God, nevertheless Noah was truly just, according to the text.
As far as the quote from Romans is concerned, the greater context of the entire epistle must be understood. One of the central themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (cf. Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (cf. Romans 11:22). It is solely because of God’s grace that we become truly just:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death . . . in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:2,4).
Notice the emphasis on the fact that man is made truly just so much so that he can fulfill “the just requirement of the law.” It doesn’t get any more just, or righteous, than that!
Thus, Romans 3:10ff simply does not teach total depravity in a Calvinist sense. It cannot when the context is understood.
Moreover, if we examine the verses where St. Paul paints his picture of the wicked who have “turned aside” and “done wrong,” we find he actually quotes Psalm 14:3. The next two verses of this Psalm explain who these “evil ones” are:
Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.
The Psalmist clearly refers to both evildoers and the righteous.
These and other passages from Romans tell us that Christ came to make us just, not that there are absolutely none who are just. We must stress again that it is because of the justice of Christ communicated to the faithful that their actions and, indeed, they themselves are truly made just. But they indeed are truly made just.
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right (Gr., ho poion tein dikaiousunein/ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην—“the one doing justice”) is righteous (Gr., dikaios estin/δίκαιός ἐστιν—“is just”) as He is righteous (Gr., kathos ekeinos dikaios estin/καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν—“as He is just”). -1 Jn 3:7
Scripture couldn’t be clearer that the faithful are made truly just in their being and in their actions through the grace of Christ.
The problem magnified
More grave problems arise when we begin to follow the path Calvin lays for us with his first principle. Even when considering the unregenerate, Calvin is wrong about total depravity, because Scripture tells us even those outside of the law can “do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15).
Though Catholics agree with Calvinists that grace is necessary even for those who are ignorant of the law in order for them to be just before God—in other words, this text is not saying these pagans can be justified apart from grace—the text does infer that nature is not totally depraved, because man can clearly act justly on a natural level and by nature.
But an even more grave error comes to the fore when we consider his notion of the depravity of the just.
“Depravity of the just?” Yes. That was not a typo. According to John Calvin, even those who have been justified by Christ “cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation” (Institutes, bk. III, ch. 9, para. 9). What a far cry this is from “he that acts justly is just” (I John 3:7) or the plain words of the Psalmist, who uses similar words as found in Genesis with regard to Abraham being justified by faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). In the Psalms we read: “Then Phineas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation” (Ps. 106:30-31).
Clearly, Phineas was justified by his works and not only by faith. In other words, Phineas’s works are truly “just as he is just,” to use the words of I John 3:7.
There are a multitude of biblical texts that come to mind at this point, but here are only three:
“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”? (Matt. 12:37).
“By works a man is justified and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24).
“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).
These texts do not even come close to saying all of these works were “worthy of condemnation.” They say just the opposite!
We should be clear here: All “good works” man performs that contribute to his salvation are first and foremost God’s gifts, which, along with his cooperation, truly make him just and worthy to “walk with [Christ] in white; for [he is] worthy” (Rev. 3:4) by God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot escape the biblical fact that these works are truly just and they are truly the fruit of the just man himself.
Understanding the strange
When John Calvin says man is utterly dependent upon God for every single just thought in his mind (cf. Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 27), Catholics will happily agree. And they would be correct: We do agree. However, appearances can be deceiving, because there is meaning beneath those words that Catholics cannot agree with.
With Calvin, there is no sense of grace aiding and empowering our wills as St. Augustine taught and the Catholic Church teaches. For Calvin, being “dependent upon God” means our free cooperation or free will has no part to play. God does not merely empower our wills; He operates them.
In the end, this may well be the most disturbing idea stemming from Calvin’s notion of total depravity: Man is essentially God’s puppet, a notion that led to Calvin attributing both the good and the evil actions of man to God.
And mind you, Calvin rejects and ridicules the Catholic notion of God merely permitting evil and working all things together for good. In his words:
Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting, because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that He directs their malice to whatever end He pleases” (Institutes, bk. I, ch. XVIII, para. 1).
Evildoers do not commit acts of depravity in spite of the command of God, but because of the command of God, according to Calvin (ibid., para. 4)!
Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 are used to teach that there is no evil that occurs that is not “impelled” by God’s positive command (ibid., para. 2).
God is the author of all those things that, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. [45:7]); that no evil happens which he hath not done (Amos [3:6]) (ibid., para. 3).
As Catholics we understand, as St. Paul teaches, “[S]ince they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom. 1:28). This means God may well remove grace that is rejected. He may also hold back grace as well, but this is, as St. Augustine said, God’s “just judgment.”
But according to Calvin’s unbiblical teaching, God does not give grace in the first place and then “impels” men to act sinfully. As quoted above, according to Calvin, God causes evil. And we are not talking about physical evil here; we are talking about moral evil. That is categorically absurd! God cannot “do” or “impel” moral evil because He is infinitely and absolutely good.
God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:8, Numbers 23:19); “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) or act contrary to His nature. If God’s nature is one of love and pure being, it is absurd to say that He can “do” evil, which is by nature a lack of some perfection that ought to be present in a given nature. In fact, James 1:13 tells us that God not only cannot cause this kind of evil, He cannot even tempt anyone with evil. That is contrary to His nature.
The bottom line
When Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 say God “creates evil” and “does evil,” this must be seen only in a sense in which it does not contradict God’s nature and what is clearly revealed to us about God in Scripture. God can directly cause physical evil, such as the ten plagues he released against Egypt in Exodus. But this was an act of justice, which was morally upright and justified.
We can also say that God permits evil in view of the fact that He chose to create us with freedom. But even there, God permits evil only in view of His promise to bring good out of that evil, as is most profoundly demonstrated through the greatest evil in the history of the world: the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this greatest evil God brings about the greatest good: the redemption of the world. God did not kill Christ, nor did he “impel” anyone to kill Christ.
But by virtue of His Omnipotence, He brings good out of the evil acts committed.”
“On Thursday 6/17/2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city of Philadelphia engaged in discrimination when it refused to contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) to place children in adoptive homes. The city claimed that it would not work with organizations that refuse to place children with same-sex couples. The Court rules that the city was not justified in preventing CSS from carrying out its free exercise of religion and this exercise did not sufficiently burden the city to justify its decision.
I won’t get into the legal specifics of this case. Instead, I want to focus on the broader arguments it raises when people hear about it. The biggest is the claim that Catholic adoption agencies engage in unjust discrimination when they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. How should Christians respond to this claim?
It’s not wise to use phrases like “children need a mother and a father.” Some people will think you’re equating having opposite-sex parents with a biological need like food or shelter. They might point to studies or anecdotal accounts of children raised by same-sex couples who “turned out just fine.”
In some contexts, you might find it helpful to point out the flaws in studies that purport to prove that same-sex households are just as good as, if not superior to, opposite-sex couples. Some of the flaws include the fact that respondents (usually only a handful of them) volunteered for these studies, so the more obviously dysfunctional same-sex couples didn’t bother applying in the first place. However, this approach can get you off the main moral principle too quickly and muddy the waters into debates about whether certain groups constitute “good parents.”
In fact, some parents who experience unintended pregnancies will probably be worse at parenting than a saintly, infertile opposite-sex couple. But it doesn’t follow that we should place a child with those parents because some study says they’d probably be better. Instead, we should follow principles or justice rather than the dictates of social scientists. In doing that, we should shift from saying “children need a mother and a father,” which is an empirical claim about well-being, and say “children have a right to their mother and father.”
This is why we don’t remove children from their biological parents unless the parents are deemed unfit. Even if the child would do better in another home, the child has a right to his parents. In fact, the Catechism says:
‘A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The “supreme gift of marriage” is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception” (CCC 2378).’
So what do we do with a child who has a right to his parents but can’t be raised by them—because they have died, for example, or are unable to care for him? In that case, justice demands that we replicate what he has lost as best as we can. Part of that includes the irreplaceable and unique elements that fatherhood and motherhood give to a child.
This does not mean that all same-sex couples would be prohibited from raising children. For example, an orphaned child might be raised by her grandmother and aunt. In this case, strong familial bonds can substitute for a fatherly presence.
But notice that same-sex couples are not equal to opposite-sex couples. While it’s not politically correct to say this, it is still correct: Catholic adoption agencies should not deliberately place children in homes with disordered sexual behavior. I am not claiming people with same-sex attraction are more likely to abuse a child. My point is instead that Catholic adoption agencies are committed to helping children grow up in healthy families. And while our culture defines healthy families without any regard for the harms associated with no-fault divorce, fornication, and sodomy, the Church does not, and its institutions should be free to practice their faith in accord with this (correct) view of the family.
One final objection would be that it is hypocritical for Catholics to be so firmly against abortion and yet be opposed to same-sex couples adopting children. Would they prefer that the child be aborted instead?
First, even if the lack of same-sex adoptions led to increased rates of abortion, that wouldn’t mean Catholics would be morally responsible for those children’s deaths. That culpability lies with the child’s parents—and especially the abortionist himself—because they are choosing to end the child’s life. Banning crimes like prostitution could have the unintended consequence of increases in sex-trafficking, but that would not mean that it is wrong to try to rid society of the scourge of prostitution.
Second, this objection is based on a false dilemma. It makes it seem as if either Catholics can choose either abortion or adoption by a same-sex couple. But the vast majority of children waiting to be adopted in this country are older children in the foster care system. Many of these children were wanted by their parents, who lost custody of them due to criminal behavior or being deemed unfit to care for their children. Some of them can’t even be adopted because their parents have not lost their legal parental rights.
However, newborn children are an entirely different story. Prospective adoptive parents can wait for years to adopt a newborn, and some sources indicate that there are two million couples waiting to adopt. Therefore, it isn’t the case that a child from an unintended pregnancy must either be adopted by a same-sex couple or be aborted. There are many opposite-sex couples waiting to adopt these children. They should be commended for their heroism. If Catholic adoption agencies choose to work with them, the State should not punish them for carrying out what they know to be in the best interests of the children they serve.”
-by Bill Rutland, a former Evangelical minister. He and his wife, Linda, became Catholics in August 1999. He writes from Rogers, Arizona, where he is the DRE for St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.
“The hand of God plants the seeds of the extraordinary in the ordinary events of our lives. Little did I know that stepping over the threshold of that little bookstore in Alabama was the first step in my long journey home to the Catholic Church. As I searched the shelves, a book entitled The Seven Storey Mountain caught my eye. There was something about the title that intrigued me. I had no idea who the author, Thomas Merton, was, certainly not that he was a Catholic.
It didn’t take me long to realize the book I had purchased was a “Catholic book.” I thought of putting it down, but Merton’s engaging style and the fact that I had paid my hard-earned money for the book goaded me on, page by page. I was shocked at Merton’s love for Jesus and the depth of his theology. I had always believed that the Catholic Church was an apostate church, but this certainly didn’t seem like the writhing of a heretic.
Growing up deep in the Bible belt, I didn’t meet many Catholics, and the ones I did meet didn’t advertise the fact. My first exposure to the Catholic Church was when I was about ten years old. My uncle had committed what amounted to family treason by marrying a Catholic girl in Charleston, South Carolina. There are only three things that I remember about that wedding: My Presbyterian grandmother was scandalized, the ceremony seemed to go on and on, and I got to sneak a glass of champagne at the reception. It took a while, but we eventually forgave my uncle, chalking it up to the fact that love is blind. His wife’s reprieve was not so easily won.
When I bought Merton’s book, my wife, Linda, and I had moved back to Alabama from Norman, Oklahoma, where we had been pastoring a church with the Salvation Army. I had taken a job as a printer, but my heart still yearned for the ministry. Linda and I settled into a small Southern Baptist Church where I became the associate pastor. It gave me the opportunity to teach and preach, but I wanted a full-time church of my own. An unfulfilled dream and a restless spirit are dangerous things. When a friend of mine who was the pastor of the local Salvation Army asked me to come to work for him managing his homeless shelter and thrift store, I jumped at the chance.
Linda and I donned once again the navy-blue uniforms of the Salvation Army. A little over a year later we accepted an offer to pastor a Salvation Army church in some place called Rogers, Arkansas.
We arrived in Rogers on a Wednesday, and on Thursday it started to snow—and snow and snow and snow. The next day the weather cleared up, and everything was covered in a carpet of white. My kids—Matthew, who was 13 at the time, and Lesli, who was 8—thought it was a winter wonderland. Yet to me the snow seemed somehow a bad omen.
Not long after we arrived in Rogers, Linda went into the hospital with pneumonia. She was out again in a week, but the pneumonia never really went away. She would be in the hospital three more times that year. Her doctors told us that we needed to find another line of work that was less demanding to allow Linda some time to recuperate.
Acting on their advice, I made an appointment with my Salvation Army divisional commander in Oklahoma City and told him that we had decided to resign our position because of Linda’s health. We were coming into the holiday season when every year the Salvation Army goes into overdrive. I told the divisional commander that we would stay on through the end of the year. This would give us a little time to build up our savings, which we had drained on medical bills. It would also save the Salvation Army from having to replace us in the middle of the busiest time of the year. He agreed.
The next week we received a letter stating that national headquarters wanted someone in our position immediately, and we had two weeks to leave.
You must understand that we had nothing. The Salvation Army owned everything. They owned the house, the car, the furniture—everything right down to the bed sheets and the silverware. It was two weeks before Thanksgiving, and I faced the very real possibility of being out on the street with a wife, two kids, and literally nothing but the clothes on our backs.
This probably would have happened if not for the kindness of Robert and Billi Doyal, who were the pastors of the Salvation Army church in Springdale, Arkansas. They opened their hearts and thrift store to us and helped us round up the bare necessities that a household needs. I found a job at a plant making cultured marble products and continued my Salvation Army work the best I could in the evenings.
We found a place to live and spent the remainder of our savings on rent and deposits. A member of our Salvation Army advisory committee had loaned me his spare truck so we could get back and forth to work. In the meantime, Linda had a recurrence of pneumonia, and the doctor wanted her to go back into the hospital. She refused to go until she saw that her family was settled in safe and sound.
Robert came over with his truck and helped us move in. There was an early snow that year, and as we moved our stuff it drifted down on us. Now I understood the snow’s cold prophecy the year before. Linda helped Robert and me move on a Saturday. On Sunday she went back into the hospital.
When fear and hopelessness are wed, despair is born. I had no idea how I was going to make the rent or the bills. I had two kids to look after, and my wife was in the hospital with no medical insurance. The snow had turned to ice and the roads were treacherous.
As I drove I thought how easy it would be to just slip off the road into one of the deep gullies on either side. For the first time, I actually considered taking my own life, and it scared me. Then from somewhere down deep in my soul, came an unbidden cry—”Mother Mary, help me!” It wasn’t really a prayer, it was more like a frightened child calling out for his mother. I was shocked. I didn’t believe in Mary.
Three days later, against her doctor’s orders, Linda was out of the hospital. She had found a new job, and there was no way that she was going to miss the first day. The next week she was back in the hospital on an outpatient basis for an infusion of gammaglobulin. Her doctor hoped that this would build up her immune system and keep her out of the hospital. The injection process takes about four hours, and there is little more to do than just lie there.
After I got off work that afternoon, I went to pick up Linda. She was waiting for me in the emergency room. The first words out of her mouth were, “Bill, I had a visitor.”
“Oh,” I said, “who was it?”
She looked down. “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was lying there during the injection worrying about you and the kids and my new job and the money. And all of the sudden, this tremendous feeling of peace came over me. I had the feeling that there was someone in the room with me. I looked up and there was a lady in a long robe standing at the foot of my bed.”
“What did she say?” I interrupted.
Linda paused. “Nothing. I just felt this great empathy and love.”
There are questions you know the answer to but you ask anyway. “Who was she?” I asked.
Linda look up, a confused look on her face. “It was Mary!”
In God’s wonderful mercy, the spring soothes the winter’s harsh wounds. We had managed to buy a used car, and we moved into a duplex that was much more affordable than where we had been living.
During this time I became friends with a young man named David who worked at the local Catholic bookstore. Although I had come to respect certain Catholic writers, I still believed that I was head and shoulders above Catholics when it came to the Bible and theology. In David I found my Waterloo.
We would talk between customers about Catholic theology. In David I also recognized something of myself. There was in him a deep, abiding sadness, the kind that comes only from the death of a dream. David had been in training to become a Jesuit priest but had been asked to leave in his second year. He was struggling, just as I was, with a God that all too often seemed to yank the rug out from under your feet.
Every payday I would go to the bookstore to buy another book and to challenge David with some new question. One day I was in the middle of one of my usual orations when David stopped me. I will never forget the seriousness in his face. “Bill”—he spoke slowly, letting each word hit its mark—”there comes a time when you have to put down the books.” In that moment every argument fell away. I was speechless.
It was Easter of that year that I took David’s advice. Our church was not having an early Easter service, so we decided to go to early Easter Mass. I really didn’t know what to expect. My kids thought we had lost our minds. Good Baptists that we were, we sat as far back in the church as we could. But somehow, for all the Mass’s strangeness, Linda and I felt very much at home.
I had gotten a new job that paid a little better, and Linda was doing well. We were beginning to settle into some kind of normalcy. My study of the Catholic Church had become more intense, but I still had a lot of problems with its theology. I was reading a book called Crossing the Tiber by ex-Protestant Stephen Ray when I was stopped cold in my tracks by his statement that the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura—the doctrine that the Bible alone is the sole authority in Christian faith and practice—could not be supported by Scripture.
I had never questioned the doctrine. I just assumed that it was somewhere in the Bible. But search as I might, I could not find it in Scripture. I had encountered the Achilles’ heel of Protestant theology: The very doctrine that tells Protestants they can accept no doctrine that is not in the Bible is itself not in the Bible! No matter how much I tried, I could not get around it. The doctrine of sola scriptura, one of the two foundational doctrines of the Protestant faith, was self-defeating.
Another theological issue had been weighing on my mind: the question of the Eucharist or what Baptists call the Lord’s Supper. We Baptists took the Lord’s Supper only four times a year, and on these occasions the pastor went to great lengths to explain that we did not believe that Jesus was really present in the elements. “After all,” he pointed out, “Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’”
But Jesus had also said, “This is my Body. . . . This is my Blood.” I had come to believe almost a year earlier that these words must be taken literally. As I sat holding the cracker and little plastic cup of grape juice, a disturbing thought formed in my head. The preacher was right—this was not the Body and Blood of our Lord, because this was not a true communion. We were very sincere and reverent, and in our hearts we truly loved Jesus. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were only children at a tea party calling to God from a distance. There was a Church that had the true Communion, and I knew where it was.
Linda and I had started attending RCIA at the local Catholic parish, St. Vincent de Paul. Earlier we had visited with the pastor, Fr. Mike Sinkler, and were surprised to find that he was nothing like we had expected a Catholic priest to be. Fr. Mike was warm and open and answered many of our concerns. As strange as this “Catholic thing” was, more strange was that we felt so much at home.
Though a man cannot walk two separate paths at the same time, I tried. On one hand, Linda and I were becoming more and more immersed in the Catholic Church. On the other hand, I seemed to be more and more immersed in Baptist ministry. Almost every Sunday Linda and I would go to early Mass, then I would preach from a Southern Baptist pulpit. I felt a little guilty about it, but I justified it by thinking that it gave me an opportunity to preach, and it provided some sorely needed extra income.
There comes a time in the RCIA program where you are asked to decide if you are going to come into communion with the Catholic Church. For Linda and me, this time was rapidly approaching. We were torn. We knew that it would mean the loss of some good friends, but of greater concern was that our kids were very opposed to the Catholic Church. We told them that we would not force them to come with us. It was a heart-breaking time, but we put it in the hands of God. We knew that the Catholic Church was where he wanted us.
We were settled, our minds made up, our hearts at peace. Then that very week I received phone calls from two Baptist churches I had preached at. Each church each offered me a position, one as an associate pastor, the other as senior pastor. Here was the very thing that I had been praying for so long.
It is hard to walk away from a dream when you know that dreams are so hard to come by. God wanted a clear decision. He wanted me to understand the choice that I was making. I declined the offers, and, in doing so, I knew that I was turning my back on being a pastor and having “my own church.” I walked away and I have never looked back.
On August 1,1999, Linda and I came into full communion with the Catholic Church. We had come home. It came at a high cost, but anything so precious does. We lost our old Baptist friends. Our kids still aren’t crazy about the Church, but it’s better.
In the Church we have found rest and peace, a sanctuary in the midst of a crazy world. At the Mass we enter into the great gift of the cross, the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit. In the Church we have found what we had been yearning for.
Jesus promised, “In this world you will have trials and tribulations, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” This promise is fulfilled in the accidents of bread and wine, the true presence of Christ, lovingly administered by his Church. All in all, I’ve learned what King Solomon knew so long ago: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”
“Protestant Fundamentalists don’t believe that sacraments exist, even though they have two: baptism and matrimony. Many of them use the term “ordinances” for baptism and their analog of the Eucharist, which they call “the Lord’s Supper.” The isn’t just a matter of nomenclature. Not only do they use different words than we do, but they mean different things.
To them, baptism is a sign and nothing more. To us, it is the sacrament that first brings sanctifying grace to the soul. To them, the Lord’s Supper is a mere memorial of Holy Thursday. To us, it is the re-presentation of the actual sacrifice on Calvary, but in an unbloody manner. To them, matrimony is a high state but not a permanent one. To us, it is a permanent and grace-filled union.
We all, Catholics and Fundamentalists, know that Fundamentalists reject sacraments, at least in the Catholic understanding of them, but they reject much more. They have a hearty dislike for distinctive Catholic practices and for what we call sacramentals.
Sacramentals are defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as”
“. . . sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy (CCC 1667)”.
Pesky sacramentals can pop up all over the place, not just inside Catholic churches but even inside Fundamentalist churches. Consider the Fundamentalist wedding ceremony. The bride wears white and, perhaps, a veil. She carries a bouquet. She and the groom exchange vows and rings. Each of these actions and things has a religious significance: purity in the white garments, fidelity in the vows, for instance. Each is a sign of the holiness of matrimony. Each is a sacramental if the word is used in a wide sense.
If spoken to gently, Fundamentalists can come to accept the fact that they too use sacramentals, even if they dislike the word. They are especially uncomfortable, though, when told many of these sacramentals originated in pagan religions. After all, a standard Fundamentalist charge against Catholicism is that its distinctive customs and beliefs are of pagan origin.
Fundamentalists don’t want to admit that they too have borrowed from paganism, but that is exactly what they have done. After all, their churches are offshoots of offshoots from the Catholic Church, even if they won’t admit the fact. (Fundamentalists believe their brand of Christianity goes straight back to New Testament times. It actually goes back only to the nineteenth century.)
Let’s look at three Catholic practices (they can be considered sacramentals) that irk Fundamentalists. We’ll look at additional ones in the next blog post.
When they pass the Blessed Sacrament, Catholics go down on one knee to honor the Real Presence. This posture of subservience makes perfect sense since Christ is really present in the tabernacle. Fundamentalists don’t believe he’s there, of course (they believe instead in a Real Absence), but they can be made to acknowledge the sensibleness of genuflecting through analogy.
Ask them to imagine themselves at Buckingham Palace, at an audience with the Queen of England. She enters the room and walks up to a woman. Under court protocol, what is the woman supposed to do? She is supposed to curtsy as a sign of respect for the queen.
Another analogy. A soldier meets an officer on the street. What does the soldier do? He salutes. Again, a sign of respect and an acknowledgment of a superior.
Who is more superior to us than God? Which Fundamentalist, transported back to first century Palestine, would not throw himself prostrate at the sight of Jesus? If that would be proper, then why not genuflect where Jesus is sacramentally present?
Similarly, at Mass we stand when the Gospel is read, out of respect for the very words of Jesus, and we sit to listen attentively to the other scriptural readings. At the consecration we kneel, kneeling being the posture of adoration. What we are doing is praying with our bodies, not just with our minds, and praying that way makes perfect sense for a creature composed of both body and soul.
Sign of the cross
Every Fundamentalist knows Catholics cross themselves when praying in church, when hiding in foxholes, and when walking up to the plate to bat. They don’t, as a rule, know that Eastern Orthodox Christians also cross themselves (although they do it “backward”), so they think the sign of the cross is something that immediately distinguishes Catholics from “real” Christians.
But they don’t know that “real” Christians began making the sign of the cross at a very early date. The theologian Tertullian, writing in A.D.211, said, “We furrow our forehead with the sign [of the cross].” Making the sign was already an old custom when he wrote. It may have been common even when the apostles were alive.
True, the practice is not mentioned in the New Testament, but neither are peculiarly Fundamentalist practices such as the altar call, in which people march to the front of a church to announce publicly that, because of the preaching, they have just decided to “make a commitment to Christ.”
The sign of the cross signifies two things at once: our redemption through the death of Jesus on the cross and the Trinity as the central truth of Christianity. When we make the sign we trace the cross on ourselves, and we recite the holy invocation: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Not used as often in our liturgies as it once was, incense symbolizes the pleasant odor of Christian virtue and our prayers rising to God. It is the first half of the “smells and bells,” and most Fundamentalists think only Catholics use incense. But incense is not peculiar to Catholics. The ancient Jews used it: incense accompanied prayers at the Temple (Luke 1:10). And one of the gifts given to the Christ Child by the Magi was frankincense (Matt. 2:11).
But all that was before Christianity began, say Fundamentalists. Maybe so, but the Book of Revelation deals with what happens afterward, and there we find that “the smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hands of an angel” (Rev. 8:4). If there’s incense in heaven, why not in churches here below?
Our church towers commonly have bells, often consisting of large sets, known as carillons, that can be rung from a keyboard. Small handbells are rung during Mass. Large bells have been used for centuries to call people to Mass and to sanctify certain times of the day—for instance, it once was the custom, in Catholic countries, to ring church bells at noon so workers in the fields could pause and recite the Angelus. During Mass bells are rung at the consecration, partly to focus our attention, partly to mimic the hosannas of the heavenly choirs.
Fundamentalists disapprove of bells being used in Christian worship. Why they disapprove isn’t precisely clear. Some say bells are of pagan origin and thus should be forbidden, but pagans also sang hymns, and no Fundamentalist thinks Christian hymns should be forbidden. Other Fundamentalists are more straightforward: They don’t like bells simply because bells are identified with the Catholic Church in their minds. Of course, Protestant churches often have bell towers, but that’s overlooked by these Fundamentalists. For them opposition to bells is largely a matter of prejudice.
The usual complaint about the rosary is that it violates Matthew 6:7, which reads this way in the King James Version: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do.”
“See,” say Fundamentalists, “you Catholics repeat prayers, and Jesus told us not to!” Did he really? Then how does one account for what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane? There Jesus prayed the same prayer three times—that is, he repeated the prayer. Did he violate his own injunction? Was he a hypocrite? No, that’s impossible, which means Fundamentalists are wrong when they claim Jesus condemned repeated prayers.
Read Matthew 6:7 again. The operative word isn’t “repetitions.” It’s “vain.” Jesus condemned vain prayers, such as those to nonexistent pagan gods.
What’s more, the rosary is an intensely biblical prayer. It contains not just the Our Father, which Jesus himself taught us, but also the Hail Mary, which is built of verses lifted from the Bible: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28) and “blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42). The meditations associated with each decade (Catholics usually call them “mysteries”) are also straight out of the Bible.
But most Fundamentalists don’t realize this. They think Catholics just rattle off Hail Marys without giving a thought to what they’re doing. But when we pray the rosary we meditate on incidents in salvation history, such as the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection.
What are uniforms for? To single out people for a particular function. The soldier’s uniform tells us his vocation, the police officer’s uniform helps him be identified by someone looking for help, and the Roman collar marks the priest. Vestments—a sacred “uniform”—are used at Mass. In this the Church follows the example of the Old Testament liturgy, in which the priests were dressed in special clothes (see Exodus 40:13-14, Leviticus 8:7-9), and of the New Testament, which tells us that John the Baptist “wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (Matt. 3:4).
Water covers most of the Earth, and it is absolutely necessary for life. No wonder this marvelous liquid is used in sacraments and sacramentals. Sacred uses of water are found throughout the Old Testament: the saving of the Israelites by the parting of the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:15–22), the miraculous flow from the rock touched by Moses’ staff (Exodus 17:6–7), the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:14–17), Ezekiel’s vision of life-giving water flowing from the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1–12).
In the New Testament we find the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13–17), the healing water of the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9), and the water brought forth from Jesus’ side by the spear thrust (John 19:34). We’re told by our Lord that to enter the kingdom of God we must be born of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).
With all these holy uses of water, is it any wonder the Church promotes the use of holy water? We find it at baptisms, in exorcisms, and in the stoups at the door of churches. With it we bless ourselves (there’s the sign of the cross again!), not because the water itself has any special powers—it’s ordinary tap water with a pinch of salt added—but because its pious use brings to mind the truths of our faith.
If we take the time, we can help Fundamentalists see that “smells and bells” flow naturally from the Incarnation, but it takes work. Many Fundamentalists are what might be termed hereditary anti-Catholics. If something is Catholic, they don’t like it, period. They operate from prejudice, not from dispassionate thinking. But even the most prejudiced can come to appreciate the sensibleness of sacramentals if they have sacramentals explained to them by a patient Catholic. And patience works: Some Fundamentalists now even pray the rosary!”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP