5. What is your assessment of Pope Benedict’s opening the doors of the church to disaffected Anglicans? Will this speed up the path into the priesthood for men in the Anglican ministry?
For a number of years now, thousands of Anglicans have been asking the Holy See to allow them to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving unique aspects of the Anglican tradition. One factor that held up that request was the possibility that the Anglican communion would move in a more traditional direction (and hence toward greater agreement with the Catholic Church). But when the vote at last year’s Lambeth Conference showed that Anglicans had chosen to accept female bishops, the Anglican communion showed itself to have chosen to move further toward Protestantism, and depart further from apostolic succession. Pope Benedict apparently decided that the present prospects for the reunion of Canterbury with Rome are such that they will not be significantly worsened by opening the doors to Anglicans who wish to preserve elements of their Anglican patrimony in full communion with the Holy See. Pope Benedict’s fundamental motivation here is just what he said in his first address as pope, “The current Successor [to John Paul II] assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly towards the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers.” He is seeking to be a minister of Christ’s peace in the fulfilling of Christ’s prayer in John 17.
6. You do not impress me as being someone particularly impressed with all of the “convert apologetics” movement in the RCC. What’s your assessment of ministries like Catholic Answers?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is some kind of “convert apologetics” movement in the Catholic Church. There are many converts to Catholicism, like myself, and understandably, we wish to share with others what we have discovered. We wish to see all Christians in full communion with the Church and with each other, and the present schisms resolved. Of course among some new converts there is zeal without sufficient knowledge. The solution to that problem, however, is not to reduce the zeal, but for such persons to develop a more thorough understanding of the faith, and a genuine sensitivity to the positions and personal situations of those who do not agree. Not everyone is called to be a professional theologian or historian or philosopher, but that shouldn’t prevent anyone from sharing his or her faith. In my opinion ministries like Catholic Answers have their proper place, because they are helping a great many people (Catholics and Protestants) find answers to questions about what the Church teaches and why she teaches it. That does not nullify the importance of academic work in these areas; over-simplification is a context-dependent term. In some ways, ministries like Catholic Answers can help serve as a bridge between lay persons and scholars.
7. Imagine that a large evangelical church brought you in to speak to the entire church on Protestant-Catholic relations/unity. What would be the main points you would cover?
I would first talk about the importance of unity as a constitutive element of the gospel itself, as I did to your earlier question. Then I would talk about the tragedy of the separation of Protestants and Catholics at the Reformation, and why love for Christ requires that Protestants and Catholics should be striving with all our effort to be reconciled in true unity and unity in the truth. Then I would talk about what I see as the fundamental reasons for the present division, first by laying out the two paradigms with respect to ecclesiology, ecclesial authority, ecclesial unity, and soteriology. These things cannot rightly be compared piecemeal; they have to be compared within their respective paradigms, and especially in view of the writings of the early Church Fathers. That’s why I think Protestants and Catholics need to understand both paradigms, in order effectively to reason together about them.
Here’s an example. In the Catholic paradigm, apostolic succession is a crucial component, because it is the basis for ecclesial authority, and thus for determining how other questions should be answered. Protestants do not accept apostolic succession, primarily because they do not find it in Scripture. So when Protestants find apostolic succession in the early Church Fathers, Protestants tend to view that as an accretion of some sort, not as an essential part of the deposit of faith. But from the Catholic point of view, the very stance of the Protestant who requires that something be clearly taught in Scripture in order to believe it, is already a departure from what has been the Church’s belief and practice since the beginning, that is, the practice of understanding Scripture as informed by those shepherds having apostolic succession. For this reason we can see that each side appears, from the point of view of the other side, to be begging the question, i.e. assuming precisely what is in question. In that sort of situation, cannot simply throw verses at each other; we have to step back and compare paradigms. I recently did something similar to that regarding the subject of justification, in my reply to “All the Romery People.”
8. What are some books or authors you would recommend to Protestants in the audience?
The following books may be helpful in clarifying the Catholic faith more fully for Protestants.
Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church, by Henry Graham.
The Early Church Fathers (Three Volumes), by William Jurgens.
A History of Christendom (Five Volumes), by Warren Carroll.
Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, by Louis Bouyer.
The Catholic Church and Conversion, by G.K. Chesterton
Evangelical is Not Enough, by Thomas Howard.
Upon This Rock, by Stephen Ray.
The Russian Church and the Papacy, by Vladimir Soloviev.
Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, by Henri de Lubac.
The Life of Faith, by Romano Guardini.
Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition, by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering.
Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, by Scott Hahn.