September 19, 2014

Swimming The Tiber, Or Just Taking A Quick Dip?

tiber-diver-AFPThere is an understandable lovefest surrounding the new pope, and not only from Catholics. Anglicans, Orthodox, and evangelical leaders are all praising the new servant of the servants of God. Jewish rabbis are looking forward to stronger relations with the Vatican because of Francis. Even Baptists are cautiously optimistic that this new pope will prove to be the actual anti-Christ so the rapture can occur and none of them will be left behind. (Kidding, I’m kidding. Kind of.)

I have made it clear that I am an evangelical. Have been for nearly 40 years, all of the time I’ve walked with the Lord. I came to faith in an American Baptist church in southwest Ohio where I was taught that anyone who went to any other Protestant church might be a Christian, but barely if that. And that no Catholic could be a Christian. Ever. For any reason. Catholics worshipped dead people and put the pope above Scripture and even above Jesus. I was told that Catholicism was a cult, just like Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses. For years during testimony time I heard the phrase “I used to be a Catholic, then I got saved and became a Christian.”

Lately, however, I have been feeling a tug to look more closely at the Catholic Church. Maybe it is just to have a better understanding of Catholicism. Maybe to purge some of my earlier anti-Catholic teachings. Maybe, just maybe, because I feel my time as an evangelical may come to an end. I don’t know. In any case, I want to spend some time this morning, and again this afternoon, looking at several books I’ve been browsing lately regarding the Church past and present. These are not meant as in-depth book reviews, merely as jumping off places for discussion.

Where I would really like to start is at the feet of Martha of Ireland, our resident Catholic scholar. I would gladly travel to Ireland and search for her hiding place. Then I would soak up her knowledge of the history of the Church, as well as her insights into where it is headed. Unfortunately, time and money don’t permit an Irish adventure just now. So I have had to settle for some book learnin’.

history churchMy first stop was James Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium. The 580 page hardcover book was imposing when I received it from Amazon. It is not small, but how could a book covering 2000 years be small if it is to be of any worth whatsoever?

The first thing I realized as I read through Hitchcock’s work is this is much more than a history of the Catholic Church. It is the history of Western culture. The Church didn’t exist as today’s evangelical and mainline Protestant churches do, in a semi-ghetto-like setting, separate from the rest of the world. The Church was the world, at least the Western world.

He starts with the world as it existed just before the incarnation of the Christ, and slowly takes us through the first decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. You get a feel for just how fragile this new Christian sect was. If persecution from Rome didn’t threaten them, persecution from Jews did. And how this fledgling faith survived the many heresies that emerged is a miracle unto itself. This story is a rip-roarin’ read, let me tell you.

This is not an academic book, though Hitchcock is a respected professor of history at Saint Louis University. There are no footnotes to be found, which for me is both good and bad. Bad in the sense that I found myself wanting to check his source to see if I could delve deeper into a topic, and good because footnotes are speed bumps for the eyes that make reading much more tedious. There is a suggested bibliography to go with each chapter, so you can get an idea where his thoughts come from.

Hitchcock paints for the most part a very favorable picture of the Catholic Church. Yes, there were some scandals and excesses too grand for him to brush over, but these are eclipsed by all the greatness the Church accomplished. I’m not trying to say he has painted unfairly; this is his book and his history. And it is not meant as an in-depth critique, or even an in-depth history for that matter. This is a leisurely journey from 30,000 feet. You can see below you, but not in any great detail. Still, this is an extremely enjoyable and informative book, one that I will be referring to again and again.

popesOf course, a great deal of the history of the Catholic Church must, by its very nature, be a look at the various popes, from Peter to Benedict XVI. For that I turned to Fr. John O’Malley’s A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present. Once again, O’Malley starts at the beginning, which is not always the best place to start a story, but for a history lesson, it is rather necessary. He gives an apologetic for Peter being the foundation of apostolic succession, which was helpful for this Protestant.

Then O’Malley takes off on a wild ride throughout the papacy. Once again, we don’t just learn about the Church, but the world around the Church and how each affected the other. O’Malley doesn’t pull any punches. If a certain pope was a stinker, he says so in detail. And there were many more stinkers than I ever suspected. But here is what comes through in this portrait: Yes, there were men who were lecherous, selfish, greedy crooks who wore the pontiff’s robes. There were some who were incompetent in every way. There were some who had good hearts but surrounded themselves with those with black hearts.

And yet the Church has survived. It has not only survived, but today Pope Francis has a platform to proclaim the Gospel unlike at any other time in history.

From both of these books I see something remarkable: The faithfulness of God. No, I don’t mean it’s remarkable that God is faithful. I mean that, in spite of the very best efforts of men and women to muck everything up, God loves us and is merciful beyond measure. This is not a story of a perfect religion with just a few bad apples. This is a picture of a gnarled, worm-ridden apple being held by Someone who says he will give all he has to buy it for it is beautiful in his eyes. My eyes have been opened, however slightly, to the grandness and realness of the Catholic Church. Could there be a home there for me? If St. Malachy is correct in his prophecies, I don’t have much time to decide.

Comments

  1. Your analogy of the worm-ridden apple reminds of a ( perhaps apocryphal ) story of Napoleon threatening a Cardinal that he could destroy the Catholic Church on a whim if he wanted to. The Cardinal’s reply was that the Catholic clergy had been trying unsuccessfully to destroy the Church for 1800 years, so what made Napoleon think he could do it?

    In all seriousness, I think you’ve touched on something very deep that was a major factor in my own decision to swim the Tiber, namely that the Catholic Church is such a frail, human institution, and yet the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it…

  2. It’s not a very far swim for most Protestants who believe in ‘a lot of God and a little bit of me’, as the Catholics do, also.

    Very different look. Very similar theology.

    That’s how Luther could call them, “Two wolves tied at the tail.”

    • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

      Steve, please expand on your comment : ” who believe in ‘a lot of God and a little bit of me’, as the Catholics do, also. ”

      If I am understanding this based on the meaning of the words you’ ve chosen then I must say it is a statement so far from the truth but one protestants love to throw around. It all comes down to choice of words used and the meaning given to these same words and the understanding of Grace with a capitol G….

      Without God Catholics can do nothing good, say nothing good, cannot Be good for all that IS truly Good is in God, Is God. Catholics need Gods merciful Grace at every moment of their lives. It is never a little bit of me….it always begins with Gods Grace, continues with God’s Grace and by the Grace of God our lives will end transformed into the true Image of Jesus – All by God’s Grace. The only “I”, “me”, part of this is each persons moment by moment “yes” to the Grace of God. Our Yes to God’s Grace is our yes to His Action within us. The more we say yes, the more God’s indwelling presence becomes the “who” of who we are… God’s Grace is the communication of His very Self, the action of His Indwelling Presence. Each moment we say yes to Him, the more He becomes part of us and we part of Him. As St Paul so eloquently said….”it is no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me.” It is thus, for example, that we see value in what we call the works of Mercy ( remember Jesus said: whatever you do to the least of these you do to Me…these are not ‘works’ of the flesh…but Actions of a Loving God working through us, Loving others through us. Each time we surrender and say yes, the Grace of God increases within us, He increases and we decrease. With every increase of Grace we are transformed more and more into the image of Jesus. This is why over time it becomes easier and easier to live the beatitudes, to live out what St. Paul says true love is…patient, kind, forgiving, etc. …to the point of almost not recognizing ones own self. This is the process of Sanctification…..this is “the working out of our salvation” as St Paul said….It is not the our salvation.

      God gave us free will to choose to love Him or choose not to; to choose to follow Jesus or choose not to. Catholics need Grace to do even these things….all we must do is open the door of our lives….by saying yes.

      They have done studies in neuro-science and found what is believed to be the area of the brain in which this split second act of free will takes place. God didn’t create robots who are programmed to know and love Him. He created us free to choose Him, to desire Him, to love Him in each present moment of our lives. It is a true “renewing of our minds” as God’s Word exhorts us – to put God and what His Kingdom is all about: Loving God, loving others, in First Place in our lives, in first place in our minds, in first place in our thoughts, in first place in
      our affections, in first place in our actions. We can do none of this in and of ourselves…only through our surrender and yes to God’s Grace, His Abiding Presence within.

      When I studied in Rome I did a thesis on Grace…it changed my Life. Sadly many Catholics don’t understand the depth and reality of God’s Abiding and indwelling Presence.

      • I have gleaned from Steve’s comments that he thinks Lutherans are the ones who believe it is all God and none of me, while Catholics and Evangelical Protestants and other Protestant Christians think it is “a little bit of me” and thus that means it is not faith alone and instead a person relies on their own works/efforts for salvation.

        I don’t think it is an accurate assessment, but based on many comments here and on my blog, it seems to be Steve’s belief.

        God bless!
        Devin

        • Steve can clarify this, but I believe Steve thinks that even faith is imputed from God. So in his mind, even thinking that Faith is “my faith” makes it a work.

          • Yah this is the same idea that Calvinist monergists seek to establish, but I think that Steve even says those Calvinists think that it is “a little of them.” Maybe he will clarify. In any event, when Christians are duking it out to try to out-monergize each other, something is wrong. We don’t steal God’s glory when we accept the gift of grace He offers us. It is a free gift, but He respects our free will in accepting it or rejecting it. The monergists deny that.

  3. There is a lot of good in the Roman Catholic church that is sadly missing in most Evangelicalism. When Revivalists consistently botch their teaching on Justification, they essentially remove most of what benefit can be obtained from not being Catholic. I do think that a large portion of Evangelicals would be better off spiritually in the church of Rome, and with the CEC looming ahead, perhaps a good number of them will come to the same conclusion soon.

    But personally, of all the options, why Rome, specifically? I’d like to see an apology for what they offer that cannot be found in Lutheranism, Anglicanism, or Orthodoxy. These four traditions have so much in common, it can be confusing for a pilgrim to find his home between them.

    • But personally, of all the options, why Rome, specifically?

      Because Rome is at the center of every Protestant anxiety. Ever seen Protestant instinctively push back against something they see other Protestants doing–say, memorized prayers, a more liturgical style, etc.–because they think it’s too Lutheran? Or too Episcopalian? No, it’s because it’s too Catholic. You don’t hear Baptists rail against capital T Tradition because it’s something the Orthodox do. When evangelicals say “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship,” what associations are haunting the word “religion”?

    • Miguel

      I am there! I feel torn between Anglicanism & Catholicism right now. I’m currently recovering from surgery so it’s tough to be able to even attend a mass at either.

      Any chnce you could list some helpful pointers towards either?

      Thanks!

      • This something I don’t quite understand. I personally feel comfortable between Anglicanism and Lutheranism, but I don’t quite understand why someone would waiver between Rome and Canterbury. If you’re not Protestant in theology, then why on earth would you be Anglican? If you are Protestant in theology, why would you be Catholic? I know Anglo-Catholics exists (I even know some), but I just don’t get it. Perhaps you can enlighten me on how someone could be drawn to Rome and Canterbury.

        • Brendan, speaking from first-hand experience, a lot of Anglo-Catholics are essentially Catholic in theology, but aren’t sold on Papal supremacy… some will even go so far as to acknowledge that historically, the Bishop of Rome was/is the Patriarch of the West, but don’t want to define that as meaning he has universal jurisdiction in the Church (this was actually the position of the late Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey). In other words, a lot of people who waiver on the Anglican/Catholic line are something akin to non-Ultramontane Catholics…

        • Plus there is the Book of Common Prayer, a great literary treasure appreciated by English-speaking Catholics as well as Anglicans.

      • Mr. S: Go to the 39 articles, in the back of the Book of Common Prayer. Most Anglicans in the northern hemisphere don’t give a hoot for them these days, but it’s a good and concise place to begin. Read them and decide if you agree or disagree. It’s so much shorter than working through the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Pay special attention to article 11: If you agree with this, you cannot be a Roman Catholic.

        • But Miguel, as you yourself point out, no Anglicans give a hoot about the 39 articles… certainly not the liberals, definitely not the Anglo-Catholics, but not the evangelical Anglicans either. Is that really a good place to recommend Mr. S go to discern between Canterbury and Rome?

          • Those on the left don’t care, but traditional Anglicans certainly do.

          • Our Diocese (Diocese of Cascadia, ACNA) I believe requires adherence to the 39 Articles. I know they at least accept them as a proper definition of faith.

        • Also, if you want a good commentary explaining the 39 Articles I’ve had W.H. Griffith Thomas’ “Principles of Theology” recommended to me by Anglicans. There is a context and history to them. I don’t know it myself as I’ve just started the book.

    • Hi Miguel,

      I’m sorry but I don’t know what CEC means. Can you please explain?

      Thanks.

  4. I could never “convert” to Catholicism because I have too many issues with some of their theology, but I will tell you that oddly enough, most of my favorite theologians and Bible scholars happen to be Catholic.

    Some of the books that have most shaped my theology in the past few years were written by Catholics.

    Also, I have noticed that many of the people I encounter on my blog and in my daily living who are most concerned with loving the poor and homeless and serving others are also… Catholic. We worked quite closely with some Nuns in New York when we lived there and their ministry of helping the children of migrant workers. It was a beautiful ministry, and the Nuns were amazing.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      This well expresses my heart as well. So much of Catholic theology makes sense to me, but, parts of it make absolutely no sense at all. And I owe so much to various Catholic writers.

  5. I definitely see the merits of wanting to join the Catholic Church, but the grass is always greener on the other side.

    Catholics are cool and all when you talk about their liturgy, church history, and Catholic architecture and art, but once the discussion turns to theology…issues abound. I, myself, every now and then find the road to Rome to be very attractive, but I know it’s one I’ll never take because of the deep theological differences the Magisterium and I have regarding faith vs works, the eucharist, and the papacy.

    • For two great books about the Eucharist, try Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist by Ronald Rolheiser and Eucharist (Catholic Spirituality for Adults) by Robert Barron. The first one has two really great pages that sums up all that the Eucharist is for believers. The second book has a great section on the Church Fathers and how they viewed the Eucharist. Both are very approachable books but still with “meat” in the writing..

      • JoanieD, Fr. Barron is fantastic, isn’t he?

        Jeff, in addition to his books, Fr. Barron has a ton of really great videos on various topics–some quite short, some rather long–many of which can be found on YouTube.

        • Ryan, my parish is currently watching the 10 part series of videos on Catholicism in which Robert Barron is the host. It is excellent. We have four different times during the week that one episode will be shown and whoever shows up for that group then discusses what they heard. We just watched episode 5 so we have 5 more weeks to go. I love how he goes to places all over the world and shows the natural beauty of the place as well as the inside of elaborate churches and cathedrals. And the teaching is very good.

          • That sounds awesome!

          • Christiane says:

            I purchased Father Barron’s ‘CATHOLICISM’ and I love it. I also purchased the soundtrack so I could get lyrics of that theme that is played at the end of each section . . . but the lyrics weren’t given . . . disappointed, yes :)

  6. Tom Huguenot says:

    And, of course, the fact the Vatican still refuses to recognize that we Protestants form true churches is OK.

    Living in acountry where Roman Catholicism is slowly but surely dying, I do not understand this strange fascination some people in the States have for Papism.

    You want liturgy? tradtional Protestantism has it

    You want a strong doctrine, depply rooted in Scripture? traditional Protestantism has it

    You want genuine Catholicism? traditional Protestantism has it

    You want the pure Gospel of justification by grace alone through fait alone? Well, with all due respect, you will not find it in Rome!

    • Tom, I am not sure if I find your bigotry and hubris more off-putting, or if it simply the overwhelming silliness of claiming that genuine Catholic faith can be found in Protestantism. THAT makes not a shred of sense.

      Sorry, buddy, but you sound like a teenager raging against his mean and stupid parents.

    • “You want the pure Gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone? Well, with all due respect, you will not find it in Rome!”

      No, but what you will find clearly in Catholic doctrine from the Council of Trent is that grace is a work of God, given not according to man’s works. Tom, I’ve heard arguments like yours from backwoods Baptist pastors so many times…It’s more of a regurgitation of what you’ve been taught than any sound scripture-based argument.

      In sacramental theology, grace is extended by God, and we respond to that. In non-sacramental traditions, man moves, and God responds. In non-sacramental traditions, we determine who is “saved” and who isn’t based on their external behaviors. That, my friend, is works-based theology.

      You should check Pew Research stats before saying the RCC is losing ground in the US. RCC and Orthodox bodies are the only churches, outside of the COG, that have reported any positive growth for the past five years.

      • +1 to everything Lee has said. I’ll never forget the first time I actually read what the Tridentine Fathers had written, and realized that I had been sorely misled by my evangelical upbringing about what that Council actually taught…

        • Back o’ The World to you, old friend…

        • Well,

          There has been some change in practice in the RC but the anathemas of Trent are still in place. We can find common ground but to gloss over the real differences that existed at the time of the Reformation is not wise.

          • Oh, I definitely do not intend to gloss over our soteriological differences…they’re very real. What I meant to say is that what Trent actually taught is very, very different from the caricature of that Council that was presented to me by my pastors and teachers as a young evangelical.

          • The anathemas were for the first reformers–not their descendants. No one born and raised in a non-Catholic tradition is anathema. The Catholic Church does not anathematize someone who has never been Catholic. The anathema basically says, you were baptized a Catholic and claim to be a Catholic, but you no longer think like a Catholic or espouse the beliefs of the Church.

            Have modern day Protestants rescinded the condemnations their forefathers made of the Catholic Church? Those mutual condemnations are simply historical fact.

            Some people believe that anathema means “condemned to hell”. It does not. The Church does not pretend to know who, if anyone, is in hell. We believe that Christians in general, not just Catholics, go to heaven if they have responded to God in Faith. We also believe that the non-baptized can be saved provided they respond to the grace they are given.

            Would you rather, Austin, that I thing of you as a good Catholic than a good Protestant? We really don’t see you, specifically, or Protestants, generally, as the enemy.

          • I can’t say I intended to gloss over the differences that existed at the time of the Reformation; instead, I was making a statement of my frustration of hearing the same old complaints about Catholicism, complaints that make one easily recognizable as someone who knows little to nothing about Catholic doctrine or sacramental theology. Most of us who are Protestants (of which I am) have heard the same old tired rhetoric for years, without any sound basis to back up the claims.

            I will say as someone who is of the “via media” bent, much like yourself, the same individuals consider us much closer to Catholic than Protestant because of our practices…They don’t care to examine our theology. When I was ordained as an Anglican transitional deacon, I was joked about by staff members at my old Baptist church, where it was reported in a staff meeting that I was “wearing long flowing robes, chanting, and swinging incense around like some kind of Catholic.” Another Baptist friend remarked to me, “I just hope you still have Jesus living in your heart.”

            Unfortunately, anyone with an alb and surplice is the debbil to the misinformed.

            Hope you and St. Andrew’s are doing well, friend…

    • Tom, non-Catholic, never will be RC, here.

      Please, do tell though, more specifically than “Traditional Protestantism”, where would one find (on the Prot side) traditional liturgy, strong doctrine, and genuine catholicism?

      ……crickets chirping…….

      Sorry, but i’ve tried to find this without much luck. I’m tempted to say that could be found in the Lutheran Church, but in my experience, many Lutheran Churches are (most sadly) following after the seeker, mega-church approach in an feeble attempt to be “relevant.” For all that I really like about the LCMS, it appears to me to be a deeply divided body between those who want it to remain old school, confessional, etc and those who wish to make it more modern/inclusive/accepting/with the times. I’m left to wonder how long it can be held together.

      At the heart of all Protestant churches seems to me to be a never ending desire to change/reform. So, what I say to all Protestants is this: Do you like your church in its current form? You do? Good for you. Check back with me in ten years and we’ll see if it in any way, shape or form resembles what it is today.

      So to sum, I’m highly skeptical of your claim that all of that can be found in any Protestant church. But, even if it does, I don’t believe it will last for very long.

    • “You want the pure Gospel of justification by grace alone through fait alone?”

      This is a big part of the problem. Justification by grace through faith alone is not The Gospel, let alone the pure Gospel. If the Gospel is a principle of grace through faith, then Bultmann was right and we basically can dispense with Creation and New Creation. Soteriology uber-alles protestantism and its red-headed step-children of contemporary me-centric “personal whatnots with God” gnosticism, is traceable to this misunderstanding. Paul didn’t identify the Gospel as justification. Neither did Jesus. None of the Gospel sermons in Acts identify the Gospel as justification. Justification is the theology of what the Gospel does. The Gospel itself is that Jesus is King, that the King died for sin, that he rose in the flesh, glorified, defeating sin death and devil.

    • Dan Crawford says:

      Traditional Protestantism has “liturgy”, really? Where? (Don’t tell me Anglicanism or Lutheranism – they have liturgy because they weren’t so eager to toss the baby out with the bath water.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Traditional Protestantism has “liturgy”, really? Where?

        1) Preacher-man ranting from the pulpit.
        2) Kickin’ P&W rock concert.

      • Wow, folks are making broad generalizations in response to this post. Have you ever experienced Anglican liturgy? Or studied it’s roots? Maybe read Jewell’s “Apology for the Church of England?” Fact is, a good deal of the Anglican liturgy has Catholic/Orthodox roots, and portions can be traced back to liturgies recorded by St. Basil in the 3rd century. Dude, I think it’s a little more than just “they weren’t so eager to toss the baby out with the bath water.” Cramner, et al, were concerned with orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

        • There’s only one problem with what you said Lee. PORTIONS can be traced back to the 3rd century, but your word PORTIONS is precisely the problem.

          Agnlicans don’t believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (I’m NOT talking about transsubstantiation) so for me, that’s a non-starter.

  7. That scurrying noise you hear is me heading for the hills, Jeff :-)

    My sister will laugh when I tell her I’m considered an expert and wise, which is okay, because my guardian angel is laughing his (her?) head off already.

    Would I recommend that someone become a Roman Catholic? That’s a heavy responsibility. I believe we are true and have truth. I also know that we don’t live up to what we teach and that on a grassroots level, it’s a grab-bag as to whether the parish you attend is good, bad or indifferent. And of course, there is the unavoidable history of the scandals (sexual, abuse of power and cruelty).

    What I would say is that there is no perfect church here on earth. Even if you go to the most austere monastery with the holiest monks or nuns, you will not live a life of 24/7 perfect heavenly bliss. St Therese of Lisieux who insisted so hard on joining the Carmelite convent then had to put up with fussy, annoying and just plain ordinary nuns there. St. Bernadette of Lourdes suffered from the jealousy and suspicion that she was just a glory-seeker of her sisters when she joined a convent. I’m pretty sure Sr. Lucia, one of the Fatima seers, also had a lot to put up with in her life (and certainly she has been used by the apocalyptic wing of my brethren and sistern who love conspiracy theories, veer towards outright sede vacantism and claim that the real true Third Secret of Fatima has not been revealed because the one we were told wasn’t all about the End of the World and the various terrible events that will happen).

    And then there’s the rest of us, the ordinary slobs (and I am very much one of those). Either the ones who are three-quarters ‘cultural Catholic’, live generally according to the secular culture, and whose religious practice is a mix of folk-piety customs verging on superstition and ‘Christmas and Easter’ attendance, or those like me who talk the theory like experts but fall down on living the practice (you mentioned, Jeff, the lack of love amongst Christians and I am very deficient in love).

    The situation wasn’t that great either in the Good Old Days; as Pope Benedict described in his talk to the clergy of Rome (one of the last ones he gave in the weeks leading up to his retirement), he had witnessed much the same as a priest assigned to a relatively well-off German parish in the 1950s, and this was the view going to the Second Vatican Council in 1962:

    “So off we went to the Council not just with joy but with enthusiasm. There was an incredible sense of expectation. We were hoping that all would be renewed, that there would truly be a new Pentecost, a new era of the Church, because the Church was still fairly robust at that time – Sunday Mass attendance was still good, vocations to the priesthood and to religious life were already slightly reduced, but still sufficient. However, there was a feeling that the Church was not moving forward, that it was declining, that it seemed more a thing of the past and not the herald of the future.”

    So – what do I say? From the outside, we can look great. We can dazzle with the sheer weight of history. We genuinely and truly do have a magnificent tradition of theologians and saints from the earliest days to right now. From the inside, not so much. Often (more often than we would like) we can be like the Pharisees; whitewashed tombs that look splendid outside and inside are full of rottenness and corruption.

    For a sample, you could look at the most recent bitchery and backbiting and mutual recriminations over Pope Francis. Within quite literally minutes of his announcement as Pope, there were those on the ultra-traditionalist side (and I have very conservative sympathies myself) hyperventilating themselves into fits of the vapours about his lack of orthodoxy and dire rumours of how he was all but a heretic as archbishop of Buenos Aires (here’s a charming sample of the kind of thing thrown up – and I use the term advisedly – within a day or so of his election).

    On the progressive side, there has been a lot of smarming about how Francis is the contrast to Benedict (Cardinal Mahony, I am looking at you and very, very angry at your sheer brass neck) and is expected to be the long-hoped for almost messiah who will finally implement the full intent of Vatican II and the reforms.

    We do a lovely job of savaging one another, without any necessity for the sniping from the secular media, don’t we?

    So I am going to weasel out of giving advice or counsel, in the words of my co-religionist – “Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes“.

    But I will say to anyone thinking about the Catholic Church if, at first contact, you don’t run away screaming, then ask God for what is His will. Come in, stay out, what? Only decide – and if you do take the plunge, welcome aboard, we need all hands at the pumps and there’s a lot of holes need patching in the barque of Peter!

    Only don’t join because of issue X or Y. Don’t join because (you think that) the Church teaching agrees with one or more of your favourite hobbyhorses. Don’t join expecting every single answer to be neatly worked out. Don’t join expecting those you will meet as your fellow-Catholics to be pious, educated in their faith, or better than the average Joe or Jane Citizen (you’ll often find we’re not even as good). Don’t join expecting the texts you have read to be lived in the life of the parish, because you will get an awful shock at the contrast between the official teaching and how things are done in real life.

    Do join if, after many of those who followed Christ went away because of the hard teachings that sounded crazy, and when you are asked “So, are you going to go as well? Who do people say that I am? And what do you think yourself, who do you say I am?”, like Peter you are going to shrug and say “Lord, to whom shall we go? Where else? Who else can teach us what you can? Who else has the message of eternal life?”

    Do join if you’re prepared to put up with an awful lot (and we can be a truly awful lot).

    From J.R.R. Tolkien’s letters, writing to his son (and describing a Mass celebrated during the Good Old Days of Latin and the Tridentine rite):

    “Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand – after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.”

    One thing I can say with certainty: there will always be plenty of mess!

    • Martha,

      Would it be wrong to convert to RC just so I can walk with the Knights of Columbus in one of their really cool get ups and swords in the annual town Christmas parade?

      They really are my favorite part.

      :)

      • Josh in FW says:

        I guess that you’ll just have to pick from the Shriners, Oddfellows, Elks, or the Optimist Club.
        :-)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      On the progressive side, there has been a lot of smarming about how Francis is the contrast to Benedict (Cardinal Mahony, I am looking at you and very, very angry at your sheer brass neck)…

      Mahony used to be my Archbishop; now he’s up to his eyebrows in the Pedophile Priest Coverup Scandal to the point local talk radio always refers to him as “Cardinal-Pedophile Mahoney”. At the very least, the guy was as asleep at the switch as was humanly possible.

      • Well, God forgive me, but the man has been tweeting merrily from Rome when it would really serve him better to say nothing and keep saying it.

        The straw that broke the camel’s back for me were the tweets about the move from ‘high’ to ‘low’ liturgy and simplicity and how welcome this change was; that made me go “And how many millions did you spend on your eyesore of a cathedral which was intended at least in part as your monument and memorial, Cardinal?”

        Eh. I need to apply the same kind of patience and charity I’m recommending to others :- (

  8. @ Tom H.

    I agree that in a systematic approach RC claims that grace is “infused”. The EO, rather, speak of grace as infinite as God is infinite and then our role as participants in the process of theosis. Both of those traditions are holding in tension the aspects of faith, grace, and works as pertains to our transformation. For the most part Evangelicalism approaches grace as simply a “not guilty” verdict with no good theology of transformation.

    In my difuse reading of RC’s I find a very broad understanding of grace and faith. For instance, this from Merton;

    Magnificent lines from Barth:

    “Everyone who has to contend with unbelief should be advised that he ought not to take his own unbelief too seriously. Only faith is to be taken seriously; and if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, that suffices, for the devil has lost his game.” —Dogmatics in Outline

    This is one of the great intuitions of Protestantism. And, of course, from a critically Catholic viewpoint, one can find fault with it: but why? To say “only faith is to be taken seriously” can be understood in the light of that Christian— and Catholic—humility which puts all its trust in God. Our “good works” are necessary, but they are not to be “taken seriously.” The Catholic dogma of justification never told anyone that he had to take his good works seriously in the sense of trusting completely in his own righteousness, for to take one’s good works seriously is to be a pharisee. Only faith is to be taken seriously because only the mercy of God is serious. And if we put too much emphasis on the seriousness of what we do, we not only make the judgment of God the most serious reality in our life, but we are in fact judged: we are judged as men who have taken seriously something other than His infinite mercy. He who takes mercy seriously will hardly sin seriously. He who takes his own works seriously will not be kept, by that seriousness, from sin. It is pseudo-seriousness. It is not good enough.
    What about unbelief, then: if faith is to be taken seriously, it follows that unbelief is also serious. No, because in taking faith seriously it is God whom we take seriously, not ourselves, not our faith. I do not take faith seriously as something which I definitively possess, but I take seriously God Who gives me faith and renews that gift, by His mercy, at every moment, in spite of my unbelief. This I think is one of the central intuitions of evangelical Christianity, and it is something which we must all learn. It is something, too, which many Protestants have themselves forgotten, becoming in¬stead obsessed with faith as it is in themselves, constantly watching themselves to see if faith is still there, which means turning faith into a good work and being justified, consequently by works. “To believe is to be free to trust in Him quite alone” and to be free from every other form of de¬pendence and reliance. This is true freedom, and from it springs the capacity for every good work, for it removes all obstacles to love in our hearts.
    Barth stresses the fact that God must not be regarded as “pure power” in the sense of unbridled and arbitrary potentia. His power, potestas, is the power of love and truth. It is not the infinite, arbitrary will that flies into action unchecked by any responsibility to anything but its own whim: He is responsible to His own Love and His Truth. His power is the power of love.
    “Absolute power,” power responsible only to itself is the program of the devil—it becomes the ideal of man who thinks that the “power” to sin is essential freedom.
    Barth’s concept of evil: that which has been denied existence by God, and which we affirm by our own choice, thus attempting to give it existence in spite of God.
    The world is the theater of God’s glory—says Calvin, following Augustine. Man is the witness of the great acts of God, and “has to express what he has seen.” It is a great conception, but it is inadequate. I like better St. Irenaeus, who brings it even closer: man himself is the glory of God, but this glory in himself is not a spectacle which man contemplates. It is something that he lives. Gloria Dei vivens homo. I think it is most important today to get away from the idea of God, God’s glory, God’s attributes merely as “objects” which man contemplates, and then praises. Even though man may see nothing whatever of God, his life may still be filled with God’s glory. To say that he will “know” this in another world is all right, as long as we remember that we do not know precisely what we are talking about.

    (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pg. 333, Thomas Merton)

    I’m learning to ignore the “party line” and to delve into the thinking and actions of noteworth individual Catholics.

    T

    • That quote is profound. Thanks for directing us to it. When I was at Gethsemani I heard a similar message exalting God’s grace in our justification, from Romans. Luther would have been happy.

    • “I’m learning to ignore the “party line” and to delve into the thinking and actions of noteworthy individual Catholics.”

      That’s a good plan, Tom. You won’t go wrong reading Catholics Robert Barron and Ronald Rolheiser. Some folks may think Rolheiser is too “inclusive.” Not me. You can find his website which is named ronheiser.com

      I love Tom Merton too.

  9. “All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this Place”………

    • Unless you are divorced.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Which also holds in a LOT of the Evangelical Circus. (Unless you’re a CELEBRITY Megachurch Pastor-Dictator, of course.)

      • Bella, that is simply untrue….but then again, so is most of what many think they “KNOW” about the Catholic faith.

        • Pattie,

          Is it not true that people that have divorced and remarried would need an annulment of the first marriage before they would be welcome to partake in the sacrament of communion?

          • @Bella….if a Catholic divorces a spouse, s/he is still bound to them UNLESS it is determined by the Tribunal that a valid sacramental marriage was never in existence due to an impediment. Therefore, they are still bound by the original vows. (Matthew 5:31)

            Therefore, any sexual relationship that takes place after the divorce and before the annulment is adultry, and is a mortal sin. ANY Catholic in a state of mortal sin must abstain from communion—BUT NOT FROM THE HEALING GRACES OF MASS.

            This applies to ALL mortal sins, by the way. The main difference is that a couple fornicating might be able to hide their sin, but a second marriage is very public.

            Hope that clarifies your understanding. No one with a desire for the Lord is ever unwelcome in the Church or at Mass, but mortal sin keeps Catholics from recieving Christ in communion.

          • It is as I thought it was.

  10. MelissatheRagamuffing says:

    I think the reason that a lot of American Christians have become so fascinated with Catholicism (and Orthodoxy) is because the traditional/liturgical churches over here have opened their minds so far that all their brains fell out. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not change their doctrine according to what is in fashion. You can’t say the same for the American Episcopal Churches and Presbyterian Church USA for instance. In the Mennonite Church USA, it varies wildly from congregation to congregation. Double and triple ditto the Religious Society of Friends. It’s rather a bother to have to contact a church to try and find out if they’re PCA or PCUSA or evangelical Presybterians, what kind of Lutheran they are, etc. If you walk into a Catholic Church you know what you’re getting – at least doctrinally.

    Like someone else said, I’ve got too many issues with some Catholic docrine/dogma – especially concerning Mary to convert. But, the Catholic Church has consistently proclaimed that Jesus Christ is Lord for 2000 years which appears to be more than a lot of Protestant denominations are capable of.

    • “Like someone else said, I’ve got too many issues with some Catholic docrine/dogma – especially concerning Mary to convert. But, the Catholic Church has consistently proclaimed that Jesus Christ is Lord for 2000 years which appears to be more than a lot of Protestant denominations are capable of.”

      As the saying goes, every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it is producing. Maybe all those requests for intercession of Mary and the Saints for protection for the past 2,000 years have actually accomplished something. The prayer of a righteous man (or woman) availeth much.

      • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

        I’m not saying there’s not something to praying to Mary and the other saints. I just don’t buy the dogmas of the immaculate conception and perpetual virginity. Strangely enough the dogma of the assumption strikes me as possible and maybe even probable. The Lord translated Enoch, and he took Elijah in a fiery chariot. Why wouldn’t he take his mother bodily up to heaven? Most people are really really really fond of their mothers.
        Plus, I have a Catholic friend who is a bit on the nutty side who keeps insisting Mary is coredemptrix with Jesus, and I really can’t get with that.

        If joining the Catholic Church means I have to say I believe those things – I can’t do it. I just don’t believe thoose things, and I’m not willing to lie.

        • Melissa,

          Let me try to explain a few things. The hardest one first. co-redemptrix. I have a problem with that terminology myself, and was very glad that is isn’t being pushed. It’s too easy to misunderstand. Its definition is someone who helps in the redemption process, like a preacher pointing someone toward Christ. Christ is doing the saving, but allowing others to share in the work and in the joy of another’s salvation.

          Immaculate conception-That’s another one that I had very great difficulty with, until I read about Mary’s visit to Bernadette at Lourdes. When Mary appeared, that idea was just being discussed by priests and higher ups. When the priest at Lourdes asked Bernadette who she was seeing, the young girl just called Mary “A Lady”. Bernadette was asked to ask the Lady her name, and at the next visit said “I am Immaculatta” There is no way that Bernadette could have known anything about it, in fact she was slow and hard to educate. If memory serves me correctly, her teachers couldn’t even allow her to take First Communion, due to her lack of education

        • Melissa,

          I believe even Luther, Calvin and Wesley believed in Mary’s ever-virginity. I’m with you on the immaculate conception though. I’m pretty sure that’s a relatively recent doctrinal development in the Roman Catholic Church.

    • Evangelicals look to Rome because they don’t get justification in the first place. Evangelicals think the Gospel is the power to do good works and overcome sin and please God. That’s what Roman Catholicism teaches, grace is infused into the person. And it teaches this better than evangelicals ever will be able to.

      The Reformation directly rejected this thesis as unscriptural. Sinners are sinners and always will be sinners until the second coming brings us new flesh. In the mean time, grace covers up our sin and righteousness is imputed to us in Christ. Our job is not to fix the world or humanity or human nature, because it’s permanently tainted by sin. To expect more from Christians is to be constantly let down. Christians do try to live up to God’s view of us, but when we fail, we take comfort in the assurance in Word and Sacrament of our forgiveness. Conveying that forgiveness is the job of the church.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The Reformation directly rejected this thesis as unscriptural. Sinners are sinners and always will be sinners until the second coming brings us new flesh. In the mean time, grace covers up our sin and righteousness is imputed to us in Christ. Our job is not to fix the world or humanity or human nature, because it’s permanently tainted by sin.

        Let Entropy set in for a couple centuries, and you get “It’s All Gonna Burn” and complementary Rapture Boarding Passes with each Fire Insurance policy. Or More-The-Worst-of-Sinners-than-Thou worm theology like you get from Hypercalvinists.

      • “Evangelicals look to Rome because they don’t get justification in the first place.”

        False. And frankly, a little condescending, don’t you think?

        • Catholicism is Christianity for Dummies (TM)? I’ll just grab my blankie and go hunker over in the corner with Aquinas and Pascal. :-)

          • Yep! And don’t forget to take Cardinal Newman with you… That guy certainly didn’t understand anything from the evangelical childhood he rejected ;)

        • Ryan in religion I think what attracts evangelcials to Catholicism and Catholics to Evangelicalism is a basic human instinct called “The grass is always greener”. I think some people just disocvered stuff that they are new to and it attracts them. I worte it in my post below like this…

          When I grew up Catholic many Catholics I knew longer for, and lamented the youth programs that Protestants had. I’d be a rich man if I could collect a dollar for some of the comments I heard of “How I wish St. Anthony’s Parish would have a strong youth program like 1st Wesleyan/Evangelical Free/etc…” So I think some Catholics get involved in evangelicalism because they view the grass as being greener. Its new, its different, its refreshing. Now on the flip side I think the reason why some evangelicals get involved in Catholicism is similar. They grew up in evangelical programs and grew tired of them and some of the abusive issues that go in certain parts of fundamentalism. That and getting excited about liturgy is what I think does it. But I think it’s the same concept of the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. The formal liturgy, Eucharist, etc…is fresh, new and different for many evangelicals, and that’s why some people make the jump.

      • Conveying the Resurrection of the King is the job of the Church. The King forgives, but it’s just one thing he does.

        You’re right that the Gospel isn’t itself our power to do good works. But John the Baptist announced “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” –not just the guilt of the world. If that’s true, then it’s good news, and not just for Jesus’ second coming. Justification and forgiveness of sin is good news. The removal of sin and death altogether is also good news. They both have a future and a present dimension. If we’re only forgiven, but there’s no real influence of the Resurrection reality in the present, then Jesus doesn’t actually reign, does he? Sounds dispensationalist to me.

        If, on the other hand, we “have been raised with Christ” then there’s some sort of objective renewal of the personhood itself that has happened, not to mention Creation, not just a legal status. So it seems to me.

        Could this be why RC’s believe what you’re calling an “infusion” of grace into the person, and not hyper-focused on their status of in a cosmic courtroom? I would suggest that the very reason “Christians do try to live up to God’s view of us” is that they know they, having died with Christ, are raised with him, and that the principalities that have ruled the world since Adam have been defeated by a greater power in Christ. This is a lot more than just trying to be good because we’re thankful for our forgiveness (although that’s very important).

      • Dana Ames says:

        “Our job is not to fix the world or humanity or human nature, because it’s permanently tainted by sin.”

        Well then…
        I guess this problem is too big for God, and Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection only go just so far toward redemption.
        And…
        Only that which is non-material, the soul, matters… Platonic Dualism, anyone? or how about Docetism?
        And…
        St Paul’s “all things” doesn’t really mean All Things.

        Dana

        • Yeah, I meant to address that quote too. What exactly is “fixing the world?” Doing any good at all? Having a “city on a hill” theology? It seems that the NT church ran around announcing Jesus Resurrection as if it mattered to the world. The real, created, physical, up-to-then-death-ruled world. This is the problem I had with my personal Lutheran upbrining. As soon as ANYONE did ANYTHING AT ALL they were labelled as “works righteous.”

        • And if human nature is permanently tainted by sin, then Christ could not have assumed it, right? Otherwise Jesus was a tainted human being just like the rest of us, and we’re all hopeless.

      • Boaz – I’m sure it just makes you feel more secure to write people off as dumb so that you don’t have to consider the possibility that there might be smart, thinking people out there who come to a different conclusion than you. I know many people who had all the reformed street-cred and definitely “got” the reformation’s theology of salvation, but reject it as a theological innovation that is unscriptural and out of line with the Church’s apostolic teaching.

      • So the Gospel doesn’t overcome sin? Grace is just a rug under which my mess is swept?

        If that were all God had to offer this messed-up sinner, I’d take my custom elsewhere. I need stronger detergent than that.

    • Very well said Melissa!

  11. We His sheep are the church. No matter the “way” we worship. Many people go to church and miss Jesus all together. That is sad.

    Go worship where you see Jesus being lifted up and drawing all men to Himself. If you can find that church

  12. Jeff…just be aware…if you plan on just taking “a quick dip” you may still get thoroughly soaked! :-)

    You are SURROUNDED by Catholic women here: Denise, Damaris, Martha, Pattie, Daisy, me and more. But don’t worry…we will not badger you; we will assault you with kindness! :-)

    • Jeff, I feel I must in all seriousness warn you of the dreadful dangers involved in anything to do with Romanism, particularly now we have a “High Jesuit Provinceable” as pope.

      Luckily, there is one brave soul out there (and boy, is he out there) who is a voice in the wilderness trying to alert the rest of you to our nefarious plans.

      It may already be too late, since apparently we (in the person of the Jesuit Order) rule every single world government but you may, perhaps, have a chance to grab your family, a few necessary supplies, and head for a secret mountain redoubt before the black-robed minions turn up to forcibly convert you.

      Who knows – these moments may be your last few precious moments of freedom!

      • Radagast says:

        Martha,

        Its already too late for Jeff, as the Jesuit subliminal messaging (being played subliminally over secular airways) has already penetrated Jeff’s semi-concious state – hence the reason for this blog….

        First Jeff Dunn, then the world (queue maniachal laughter)…

        oops… sorry… did I reveal too much?

      • Martha, I clicked on the link you gave and just listened a minute to the video and decided to search the internet to read about the Vatican and the new world order. I can see people have been writing about that on the internet since at least when Pope John Paul II was Pope. I guess we are establishing this world order slowly and orderly. ;-)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Luckily, there is one brave soul out there (and boy, is he out there) who is a voice in the wilderness trying to alert the rest of you to our nefarious plans.

        Jack Chick?
        Alberto Rivera?
        Raul Rees?

        • Our dear friend of the video revelations Alan Lamont.

          Ooh, free e-book of “The Awful Revelations of Maria Monk”! How can you turn down the opportunity to learn what really goes on in those convents?

          Also – were the Jesuits behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? Read “The Engineers of Hell, or, Rome’s Sappers and Miners” to find out!

          I admit, I’m a little puzzled by how the Jesuits are controlling the Freemasons while simultaneously the Freemasons and other fraternal orders are the Protestant bulwark of defence of religious liberty, but that just demonstrates how cunning and Byzantine their intrigues are.

          :-)

          • Martha, in the book I am reading by Ronald Rolheiser (Cathoic priest, OMI) he is talking about wanting to establish a “new world order” based on…justice and peace. HORRORS! ;-)

          • They also secretly founded Islam, according to the very-reliable testimony of former Jesuit Alberto Rivera (in various books and comics from Chick Publications). With this kind of resources and control over the world, I can’t imagine why they have so much trouble with recruiting.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I admit, I’m a little puzzled by how the Jesuits are controlling the Freemasons …

            The same way they’re controlling the Communists, the Muslims, and the Atheists, of course!

            Funny thing about Grand Unified Conspiracy Theories. When the facts get in the way, you have to Invent a Bigger Conspiracy. Until everyone from God to each and every amoeba except for the Conspiracy Theorist HAS to be part of The Conspiracy and The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs and Won’t Be Taken In. (Check out Bob Dylan’s “Talking John Birch Society Blues” for a humorous narrative of this process.)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:
    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      You are SURROUNDED by Catholic women here: Denise, Damaris, Martha, Pattie, Daisy, me and more. But don’t worry…we will not badger you; we will assault you with kindness!

      Love-bombing from the Order of St Borg?
      (“RESISTANCE IS FUTILE! PREPARE TO BE ASSIMILATED!”)

      • No no, HUG, not the Order of St. Borg. We Catholic ladies on this blog can be “Friends of Catherine of Siena.” For anyone who does not already know, she was “named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. This was because of her learned correspondence and her teachings full of wisdom. ” She was born in 1347.

        Also, “St Catherine’s letters are considered one of the great works of early Tuscan literature. More than 300 have survived. In her letters to the Pope, she often referred to him affectionately as Papa (‘Pope’ in Italian). Other correspondents include her various confessors, among them Raymond of Capua, the kings of France and Hungary, the infamous mercenary John Hawkwood, the Queen of Naples, members of the Visconti family of Milan, and numerous religious figures. Approximately one third of her letters are to women.”

        So, there you go. A female recognized by the Catholic Church who did a lot of writing and she even advised men…even the Pope! Let’s hope Pope Francis will do as well listening to the feminine voices of the Church, including listening to Sister Joan Chittiser.

        Hey, Catherine is also one of two patron saints of Italy, the other being St. Francis of Assisi, so it’s very appropriate with Pope Francis being seated in Rome now that we honor Catherine in this way. (Her given name was Caterina Benincasa. So, let’s say we Catholic women on this blog are the “Caterina Collection.” That would certainly need explaining to anyone showing up on this blog at a later date!) :-)

      • Poke him with the soft cushions! Cardinal Fang, fetch – the comfy chair!

        :-)

  13. Ten years ago I felt the tug of the Tiber, mostly from the emerging discovery that my Baptist beliefs and the beliefs of the early Christians were not nearly as identical as I had been led to believe. One of the first and best things I did when I sensed the direction I might be heading was to get hold of ‘A Short History of the Catholic Church’. Can’t even remember the author now- I think it was Phillip something. Probably not the greatest and certainly not the most exhaustive history on the subject, but none of that mattered.

    I had been brought up to see church history as following a similar trajectory to salvation history- Creation, Fall, Redemption. The Creation, in this case, covered the Early Church; Fall was the Great Apostasy, beginning somewhere around Constantine or soon after and gaining momentum during the Middle Ages; and Redemption was the Reformation. Being an historically-minded person, I wanted- nay, needed- to get a sense of what church history looked like without a Great Apostasy. How would that narrative flow? What would that story look like?

    What I got a sense of from reading that book was a different and indeed compelling picture. Many high points, many low points. A succession of moral and spiritual peaks and troughs. Centuries when the Popes were worldly despots, bishops wallowed in prestige and luxury and the people got by on religion as habit, while maybe one brave soul or two pushed in vain for reform. Or other centuries when Popes were saints, bishops were shepherds, the people worshipped and loved together and masses came to a saving faith in Christ. The one seemed to succeed the other inevitably, though not according to any predictable timetable or anything like that.

    There seemed to be many Falls. And many Redemptions. But what there was not was a Great Apostasy. I saw a picture of church history during which, if I were to travel back in a time machine, there was no point at which I would have to say to some denizen of another time, “Sorry, there’s nowhere you can hear the full Gospel right now. You’ll have to wait a couple of centuries until someone rediscovers it.”

    The idea that God never abandoned His Church, never let it fall into such error that the Gospel was lost- that’s a compelling idea. And its one I’ve come to subscribe to.

    • Excellent comments, Glenn

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I had been brought up to see church history as following a similar trajectory to salvation history- Creation, Fall, Redemption. The Creation, in this case, covered the Early Church; Fall was the Great Apostasy, beginning somewhere around Constantine or soon after and gaining momentum during the Middle Ages; and Redemption was the Reformation.

      Funny thing, Joseph Smith (Mormons), Charles Taze Russel (Jehovah’s Witnesses), and Miller (Adventists) had nearly the same view of church history. Except Redemption didn’t come with the Reformation, but when THEY were chosen to Restore the True New Testament Church in their own image.

  14. The history of Roman Catholicism and the history of Christianity are two very different things, and there is quite a lot of bad history written trying to destroy the distinction and defend Rome’s claims for authority. (Though not as bad as the baptist writings trying to find some historical basis for their existence)

    Diarmuid MacCulloch’s, history of Christianity is very good, and his excellent writing makes it very readable throughout.

    CPH has a very good history of the church as well, which I appreciated for its extended selections from historical documents and writings, especially from the early church fathers. http://www.cph.org/p-18164-the-church-from-age-to-age-a-history-from-galilee-to-global-christianity.aspx

  15. As a Catholic who lapsed for 7 years and returned, I have learned a very important lesson. I believe that whenever we gain a Protestant convert to Catholicism we gain so much more than Protestants gain when they receive a Catholic. My point is one of respect. Protestant converts to Catholicism enrich us and change us for the better. We need that “yeast” so much.

    • Can you pinpoint anything specifically as to why you feel a Protestant convert to Catholicism enriches you?

      • Radagast says:

        I can take a stab at that. Specifically they are better versed in scripture. Although there is a growing number of Catholics who actually read the Bible, Protestants have done a better job of making it part of their daily lives. And as an avid Scripture reader it gives me someone to talk shop with ; )

        • Peter Kreeft and Scott Hahn would likely be two of those people who came from Protestantism to Catholism and have enriched our people.

          • I had Scott Hahn and Carl Keeting forced down my throat in my past. I’m tempted to say that they are the Catholic “John Piper” for some of the stands they take.

      • Well, here’s my opinion:

        When you’re born into something, you don’t necessarily have to ever own it. But when you’re becoming Catholic as an adult, it’s because you mean it. So we’re definitely enriched by converts, because while some cradle Catholics might just go through the motions, or think of Catholicism as more of a cultural thing, converts are almost by necessity going to take their faith seriously. (Full disclosure: I’m a convert. Hopefully now that doesn’t all sound arrogant.)

        And honestly, when Catholics become Protestant, they’re a lot more likely to be hostile towards Catholicism after converting, than Protestants who become Catholic are to be hostile towards Protestantism. I know this is anecdotal–there are exceptions, and I’m sure some will comment here. But, in my limited experience, you’re a lot more likely to hear ex-Catholics talk about being “saved out of Catholicism” than ex-Protestants say that they weren’t Christians when they were Protestant. The result is that ex-Protestants, since they haven’t dismissed their pre-Tiber experiences, are a lot more likely to take their experiences and habits as Protestants into Catholicism. (Like audibly singing in church! Or spontaneous, made-up-on-the-spot prayer!)

      • The notion of “fellowship”. While most Catholic parishes don’t have much interaction between members of the congregation either after the Mass or outside the church, and that suits introverts like me whose greatest dread is “Whew, I very nearly had to talk to my neighbour at Mass!”, that is not – as Jeff described – a good way of being a supportive, loving community.

        What Radagast also said about knowledge of Scripture, an active and developing prayer life, and most of all, when someone converts, they have reasons why they did so – whereas most of us cradle Catholics were born into it and don’t really have a good explanation for why we are or remain Catholics (another reason we’re so bad at evangelisation).

      • I think they also enrich Catholicism, because they actually have taken the time to learn what the Church teaches. Most people don’t “just decide to become Catholic.” They have investigated the claims of the Church and have attended months worth of classes in preparation for joining. They almost always know their faith better than most of the cradle Catholics in the pews.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          You see a similar dynamic here in the States between Naturalized and native-born (cradle) citizens.

        • @PL…absolutely why I love the passion of our converts!! As a side, becoming Catholic as an adult takes study, as opposed to saying the Jesus prayer and signing up without any spiritual education….

    • Well put.

      Jeff, as a 54-year-old former Baptist who finally settled into the Catholic Church in ’09, may I suggest: Christian Smith’s “How to Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in 95 Difficult Steps”; and Fr James O’Connor’s “The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist.” Take a look at the Vatican II documents as well.

      Finally, check out Marcus Grodi’s The Journey Home online. You’ll find hundreds of interviews with people from every kind of background who were received into the Catholic Church.

      God’s blessings on you, whatever your decision.

  16. I like what I’ve heard about and from the new pope. Then he goes and prays to Mary and then I think hmmmm….

    Perhaps God doesn’t want us to leave our imperfect churches. Maybe he wants us to stay and be the change in the church we’re at.

    • Well, yes, the Pope is going to ask Mary for her intercession. He IS a Catholic, after all.

    • For the record, “praying to Mary” = asking for her intercession.

      It’s not worship, it’s not believing she’s a goddess. It’s asking our mother in faith to pray for us, her children in faith.

      • Yup…just like asking your pastor to pray for you……except that we think Mary “might” know her Son well enough to help us pray better TO HIM!

      • Thanks for the clarification Michael, PL, Pattie. I’m ignorant to much of the churches traditions so I apologize for my next question….

        Can Mary actually hear us? Or any other Saint, for that matter? If so, why not any other person with the Lord? Isn’t EVERYONE with the Lord there because of the Lord and ONLY the Lord?

        I’m not trying to “strain a gnat” here or get into a theological quibble, just trying to understand how our Catholic brothers and sisters see things.

        • Can Mary actually hear us? Or any other Saint, for that matter? If so, why not any other person with the Lord? Isn’t EVERYONE with the Lord there because of the Lord and ONLY the Lord?

          To answer your questions: Yes, yes, yes anyone with the Lord can hear us, and yes.

          For me, it comes down to this. If I can ask my friends, with their sins, to pray for me, why can’t I ask people who have been fully sanctified, who stand in the glory of God? As long as they can hear me–and I can’t think of a reason why God would be clapping His hands over their ears–why wouldn’t they pray for me?

        • Joel, you’re quite right in thinking that anyone with the Lord can hear our prayers. Who knows the exact mechanism of how it’s done, but we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” which implies that the other dimension of heaven is more immediate than we think.

          The Catholic Church has declared certain people to be official saints, as in St. Francis, St. Joan of Arc, etc., so we know that asking for their intercession is efficacious. But that’s not to prevent us from asking any one of our departed brothers and sisters for their prayers for us.

          For me, the emphasis is on the fact that we are all members of the Body of Christ, whether in this world or the next. We should always be lifting prayers for one another, and dragging each other into heaven. One of the things I love most about my Catholic faith is the communion of saints – my extended family :-)

        • Joel,

          Long before I became Catholic, I asked my deceased grandmother to ask Jesus for an answer to a serious question that I had.

          I’m sure that I shocked a couple of deceased Baptist pastors when I asked their help in steering an eager young Evangelical from trying to convert Catholics (on a Catholic website ) to those who didn’t know Jesus at all.

    • Dan Crawford says:

      I pray to Mary the same way I pray to my fellow Christians: please pray for me, for my intentions,etc. I once pointed that out to a Protestant friend who said I could ask him to pray for me, but I couldn’t ask Mary “because she is dead”. I had attended is church service during which they said the creed. I asked him what he meant by “the communion of saints”. He said all those living people who believed on Jesus. I ask him to explain certain passages in Hebrews and Revelations. He couldn’t.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I once pointed that out to a Protestant friend who said I could ask him to pray for me, but I couldn’t ask Mary “because she is dead”.

        Is God a god of the living or of the dead? Are not all alive to Him?

  17. For Catholic vs. Protestant questions, you must ask yourself “Was the Reformation real, or just people talking past each other?” The people at the time seemed to take it seriously, and seemed to really understand what the other side said (and violently disagreed).

    So then, to reject Protestantism for Catholicism is something very real. It is a rejection of the Reformation, and of Reformation principles.

    If you are ok with that, then swim away.

    • You have hit upon a a great truth.

      I honestly don’t think people (today) really understand what was at stake in the Reformation.

      • flatrocker says:

        Steve,
        You have hit the nail on the head. People don’t really understand what was(is) at stake.

        In reflecting on nedbrek’s statement from above, “to reject Protestanism for Catholicism is something very real”, a thought comes to mind. The very nature of this phrasing puts us in a state of perpetual protest (if memory serves, I think Michael Spencer wrote on this a long way back).

        We allow our identity to be framed by what we are against. If we believe that eventually we must stand together, how then are we to ever shed our never-ending protest? It becomes imbedded in who we are – locked and loaded, end of story.

        We then hide behind layers of self-rationalizations concerning the invisible bonds of faith and thus avoid the hard work of visible Christian unity.

        If you’ are ok with that then stay on the shore.

        • Exactly.

          That’s why we Lutherans are technically not Protestants.

          For us, unity is a great goal.

          But never at the expense of the pure gospel.

          • flatrocker says:

            Steve,
            A 1517 Luther would probably agree with you.
            The 1537 edition would beg to differ.

        • “The very nature of this phrasing puts us in a state of perpetual protest”

          Certainly. And we must continue to protest, until Rome repents.

          • flatrocker says:

            Ah yes, blood fueds. And we’re only 500 years into it. So much more to hold fast to.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “Papists do A, so we must do Not-A! NO POPERY!!!”

            Then comes the split between Luther and Calvin and Knox — “DIE, HERETIC!!!” Then the Anabaptists ring in and all three Reformers stomp on them like a bloody Spanish Inquisition…

            Until you have Reverend Head Apostle Joe Soap and his True New Testament Church a whole DOZEN strong, pronouncing Anathemas Ex Cathedra against all the False New Testament Churches down the road. Or you have A.W.Pink worshipping at home as a Church of One because nobody else has the Correct Perfectly Parsed Theology.

    • if Fundys are going to be in denial about a Pope…well they have their own. Pope John Piper I. :-P

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And Pope C.J.Mahaney I.
        And Pope Mark Driscoll I.
        And Pope Bob Jones I, II, and III…

  18. There was a point in time in my life (all 27 years of it so far!) where I would have anathematized anything said by a Roman Catholic. Now though having wandered in the wilderness myself for a while, and investigated the Eastern Orthodox Church, I find myself much more sympathetic to the Roman Catholic Church. Now instead of being wrong about 25,982 things, they’re only wrong about 5,314 things :)

    If I were just going to be a layperson in the church (non clergy) it would probably be an easier decision for me to make. But as it stands now I am in seminary preparing to minister somewhere (Anglicans currently in the lead) and it would be a big decision with many consequences were I to choose to become Roman Catholic.

    Despite what some might tell converting to Roman Catholicism is not the unforgivable sin! (or the second unforgivable sin, depending on whether or not one believes blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is even possible).

    I always enjoy reading your posts Jeff and wish you the best of luck in your journey (or swim). Just don’t make a knee-jerk reaction because you like the new Pope! Make sure you do your investigation.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Despite what some might tell converting to Roman Catholicism is not the unforgivable sin! (or the second unforgivable sin, depending on whether or not one believes blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is even possible).

      In practice, the de facto Unpardonable Sin is “Whatever YOU do that I Don’t!”

  19. Dana Ames says:

    Jeff, I’ve been where you are – perhaps not for all the same reasons, but nonetheless… The difference is, I was raised Catholic. I did not revert because of a couple of big theological issues. But I don’t want to dissuade you – there is much good in RC, and I’m grateful to God for my Catholic heritage, which in hindsight lent some proportion and equilibrium to my long sojourn as an Evangelical. If you’re contemplating that big of a change, all I would say is get really well informed. For some balance, I would recommend Kallistos Ware’s “The Orthodox Church” and “How Are We Saved?” and Philip Sherrard’s “Church, Papacy and Schism” 3rd edition.

    With respect, Miguel: from an O. point of view, there are some important commonalities with RC, but there are some very deep differences that go beyond, and are the source of. the problems with the Pope and the filioque. In general, not meaning to be “flip” but rather to be concise, the O. view is that Protestantism is “the flip side of the coin” re RC.

    Tom/Volkmar, that quote is, like most of Merton, awesome. He had a great understanding of and affinity for EO hesychastic tradition as well, and kept an icon in his hermitage.

    Dana

    • Can you explain the filioque and why it matters? I think I have an idea of the EO objections to the papacy as understood by the Catholic Church, but the filioque is something of which I am completely ignorant.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Micheal, it’s the part of the Nicene Creed that says: We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father **and the Son**… Filioque is Latin for “and the Son”. This phrase is missing from the Creed in EO. It was added at a council in Spain in the 400s or 500s, I believe, but not officially accepted in RC until a couple of centuries later. You can look up the details in many places.

        There are 2 reasons EO objects. The first is that this phrase, which is an expression of doctrine, was never taken up in an Ecumenical Council (a council in which all in the church takes part – not only the bishops, but monastics and “lay folk” as well). In EO, doctrine is expressed in worship, but behind it is much discussion and rationale for it in Ecumenical Councils, and the reason it shows up in worship is that it has been accepted by the church as a whole (sometimes this takes many years). The second reason is that EO sees it as altering the relationships of the Trinitarian Persons to one another so that they are not all equally divine while still having their origin in the Father (“origin” as theological term, not indicative of lineality or temporality, just as “begotten” as theological term does not have anything to do with temporality or human notions of reproduction within the Godhead). And there are all sorts of ramifications that come from messing with the Trinitarian relations.

        That’s a very simplified overview; again, there are reputable sources that discuss this in detail.

        Dana

      • The Orthodox, from what I can make out, have a very developed theology of the nature of God, including what powers and attributes flow from and through the Trinity. Their view of the Holy Spirit as “proceeding from the Father” but not from the Son is complicated and something I don’t have a handle on, so a good explanation from the Orthodox commentators on here would be very helpful.

        • The wording was changed in the West not to deny that the Father is the origin, but to address a new heresy that developed in the West but not the East. An additional issue is that the Latin word for proceeds is an inadequate translation of the Greek word–which more clearly focuses on origin rather than procession. There is no satisfactory translation–which unfortunately led to the suppressed heresy.

          • The heresy was adoptionism: the belief that Jesus was not the Son of God until his Baptism. The addition of the filioque was to clarify that the Son as well as the Father and Spirit are One God.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The heresy was adoptionism: the belief that Jesus was not the Son of God until his Baptism.

            Just like the Jehovah’s Witnesses today.

    • Dana, I also like very much the EO’s position on what Catholics call “original sin.” I also like the EO position on what happens to unbaptized babies and their emphasis on contemplative prayer and their understanding of what happened on the cross. I also like Kallistos Ware’s writings very much, having read two of his books. As you can see, I am a big fan of the EO!

      • Dana Ames says:

        Joanie,
        if we weren’t about as far apart on this continent as people can get, I’d surely be having coffee with you a lot, and I bet we’d have some really good discussions! Hugs to you, dear sister.

        Dana

    • Radagast says:

      I am also a big fan of the EO, especially the whole purgation/illumination/union thing (love both the eastern and western contemplatives). I have some answers on the questions posed above but will reserve them to hear from someone within Eastern Orthodoxy….

  20. Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

    Two of the most mentioned things non-catholics have to say about the RCC is their problem with Mary and the issue of the Pope. So so much of what they believe is what has been taught to them from their own denominations. The idea we worship Mary —-wrong never has been never will be. An the idea that the Pope being infallible means he is superhuman, never wrong, never sins…..wrong again.

    What human being would be against their mother being highly honored and praised for doing something that all of us have benefited from. If they were against it we would look at them as ungrateful daughters or sons to so belittle what sacrifice their mother made for them and us all. Imagine this…..be honest with yourself……

    We admit to believing that Jesus was fully human and fully God. As a human being He has a mother…Why do protestants find it so hard to ALLOW Jesus to want His mom be honered and highly respected and loved for what role she played in our salvation. If she hadn’t said yes to the entire day by day reality she embraced to carry Jesus within her, give birth in horrible conditions, raise Him with all the mystery she had to ponder only to see her child beaten, spit upon, slandered, rejected by those He helped and loved, to watch Him be tortured and die an innocent man. If this was in fact YOUR mother you want me to believe you would be against her being loved and honored and being spiritual mom to your brothers and sisters in the greater family of God….

    I find it sad that so many people discredit Jesus’ Mom, disrespect her, and go so far to proclaim and believe that Jesus has no right to want His Mom to have a special place in his kingdom….. Hows this must sadden and hurt the Heart of Jesus.

    The Pope is only infallible in the area of speaking excathedra…on areas of teaching the doctrines of the church.
    It does not mean he is not a sinner, that he doesnt and cant make mistakes.

    From a human perspective it is always a good thing when there be someone to whom the worlds 2 billion + Catholics can turn to for which it can be said… the buck stops here…….Keeping in mind it is the body of the Bishops in union with the Pope called to uphold and teach the truths of the Church handed down by the Apostles.

    This again does not refer to their personal lives, while we would hope they be living examples of who Jesus was we all know they being human beings are capable of the worse sins but for the Grace of God.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      We admit to believing that Jesus was fully human and fully God. As a human being He has a mother…Why do protestants find it so hard to ALLOW Jesus to want His mom be honered and highly respected and loved for what role she played in our salvation.

      I find it sad that so many people discredit Jesus’ Mom, disrespect her, and go so far to proclaim and believe that Jesus has no right to want His Mom to have a special place in his kingdom….. Hows this must sadden and hurt the Heart of Jesus.

      I suspect this is a creeping Docetism (or as JMJ/Christian Monist often points out “Gnostic Dualism”) where the Spiritual is what’s Important, NOT the Physical. Something about the Incarnation is just too Earthy, too Unspiritual, too PHYSICAL. The Incarnation means God Almighty had to squat down and take a dump every couple days, and when you’re more Spiritual than God that just sits the wrong way.

      In a similar dynamic, Fluffy Cloud Heaven replaced Resurrection of the Body as the Christian afterlife over the years. Bodies are too messy; how much better it must be to be a pure Spiritual Being, a Soul in Fluffy Cloud Heaven, no matter that it makes God a liar by making Death permanent instead of “the last enemy to be defeated.” The pre-Christian Roman Empire had its Fluffy Cloud Heaven — Elysium — and other pre-Christian faiths had their Underworlds and Spirit Worlds. But even in Elysium, you were still Shades and Shadows and Ghosts trapped in Hades’ realm forever.

  21. Jeff:

    While not everyone may agree, I think the Eucharist is more central to a Christian’s chosen identity than many may realize. I wrote this brief blog post about the subject, which is relevant, I think, to your exploration of the Roman Catholic Church (or the EO Church):

    http://theoblogoumena.blogspot.com/2008/10/church-and-eucharist.html

    Y’all feel free to read it and leave me any comments. :)

  22. I grew up Catholic and attended Catholic elementary, CCD, Catholic High School, and a Catholic college. I wanted to attend Marquette because it was in Milwaukee, the Midwest, and away from California. I did not choose to go to Marquette because to was Jesuit. I love Marquette a lot, and felt like it was a wonderful experience, and it grew on me. My experience with Catholicism is mixed. I grew up hearing so much about Liberation Theology and Archbishop Romero that I felt guilty for his death. Romero was spoken about so much, and in some of the Catholic programs I was in became political programs to vote Democratic and trash Ronald Reagan.

    For me Catholicism was also legalistic. I remember practicing for First Communion and being scolded on not having proper stance, kneeling incorrectly, etc… I also heard Catholic conservatives rail against Vatican II as being too liberal and some wanting to go back to Latin. And I did check out a Trident Teen mass in college which I found to be way too formal.

    I also found Catholicism to be judgmental. When someone in my Catholic high school got pregnant it was like they disappeared. I was surprised to realize that some people withdrew and went to Public Schools because they did have a teenage child. Abortions and birth control carried a lot of shame but privately were practiced. In Catholic high school I played football and was surprised to learn how many abortions a Captain on the team paid for. I think about some of this when the scandal involving pedophilia pops up in the news, and kind of look at Catholicism as being a good old boys network in some ways. Maybe I was just around the wrong people…who knows.

    The one thing that did anger me was how Catholics treated divorce and denied people who were divorced communion. I had a cousin who was divorced who went to mass for years. From my understanding she could never take communion after her divorce and remarriage. This was something that bothered me quite a bit, especially in light of the pedophilia scandal.

    After I had my fundgagelcial stage I considered Catholics a cult and once told my Mother that her father was in hell for being a Catholic. I since went back and asked for her forgiveness years ago. Having had burnout from fundagelicalism my thoughts have softened quite a bit on the Catholic church. I have no problem going to Mass when my parents are in town. We’ve had some discussions. But what bothers me is when I hear this “One true church” aspect which reminds me of fundagelicalism. You tend to hear that with Carl Keating and Catholic Answers which my family is into quite a bit.

    To answer the question I think the reason why some find the Catholic Church appealing is basic human instinct. And its this principle.. The grass is always greener on the other side. When I grew up Catholic many Catholics I knew longer for, and lamented the youth programs that Protestants had. I’d be a rich man if I could collect a dollar for some of the comments I heard of “How I wish St. Anthony’s Parish would have a strong youth program like 1st Wesleyan/Evangelical Free/etc…” So I think some Catholics get involved in evangelicalism because they view the grass as being greener. Its new, its different, its refreshing. Now on the flip side I think the reason why some evangelicals get involved in Catholicism is similar. They grew up in evangelical programs and grew tired of them and some of the abusive issues that go in certain parts of fundamentalism. That and getting excited about liturgy is what I think does it. But I think it’s the same concept of the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. The formal liturgy, Eucharist, etc…is fresh, new and different for many evangelicals, and that’s why some people make the jump.

    As for me I can appreciate Catholicism now, but I still have struggles with it. I personally wish it the best and am excited at Pope Francis. However I myself am Catholic liturgied out. And I’ll confess this to….when I was a Catholic I felt pressured to just confess sins, even those I never did due to how the Confessional operated. So when I confessed I often made up some things because I felt I had to. Classic “Catholic Guilt” I guess….

    Hope you guys are not offended….I’m just speaking my mind.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The one thing that did anger me was how Catholics treated divorce and denied people who were divorced communion.

      I understand that came from a Sacramental view of Marriage, the Church’s way of saying and stressing “MARRIAGE IS IMPORTANT”.

    • Dude, when you get back to ye olde hometown, look me up. We need to have a beer or two at one of our fine microbreweries’ tap rooms (that is, if the tavern owners don’t buy out the legislature and foul things all up.)

    • I don’t know, Eagle. Some lawns are objectively more green than others. I’ve been in this thing almost ten years now (and- full disclosure- found the liturgy very difficult to get used to at the beginning, so that was definitely not why I made the swim). Sure, there are a fair few patches of grass that look a lot browner now from up close. On the other hand, there are one or two bright green patches that I hadn’t noticed from the other side of the fence.

      People have different experiences, I guess, and, well, the Catholic Church is a pretty big lawn. I think it’s fair to say my honeymoon’s over. But at the end of the day, I’ve found a home here, and I have no particular desire to radically change my beliefs again (though they do constantly grow and deepen) or to be elsewhere. FWIW.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      My experience with Catholicism is mixed. I grew up hearing so much about Liberation Theology and Archbishop Romero that I felt guilty for his death. Romero was spoken about so much, and in some of the Catholic programs I was in became political programs to vote Democratic and trash Ronald Reagan.

      Did you get the New Trinity of Marx, Lenin, and Fidel Castro, too? (And don’t forget Saint Che Guevara…)

      When Liberation Theology hit Azusa Newman Center in the early Eighties, it turned into “Christianity and Marxism are so much alike, especially Marxism.” With Inevitable Dialectic expounded to us by 18-year-old rich kids from Gated Communities(TM) in Irvine.

  23. Jeff- The Catholics in the group might be tempted to overwhelm you with hundreds of excellent reading resources for you to pack onto your raft for the river crossing. I’m one of those “who read my way across” – a mode which you may be encountering. What helped me most was to consult what Catholics say they believe instead of what non-Catholics say Catholics believe. That approach provided the best answers to my questions. All the best to you on your magnificent journey, whichever shore you land upon.

  24. I’ve been waiting for a discussion like this for a while now :)

    I swam the Tiber three years ago, after being done with anything protestant. My research brought me to the doors of the Catholic Church, but like you Jeff I grew up with so many negative teachings about them, I could not go in for a long time to see what it was actually like.

    Finally when no other options seemed to exist, we snuck in and sat in the very back (we tried to hide actually), and where surprised to find out that we already knew most of the liturgy (from our Anglican days). We didn’t get struck by lightening, and even more shocking the Priest openly welcomed us and didn’t care that we where wayward Anglicans, he told us to come in anytime.

    It was so different than what I expected, that we joined an RCIA class and a year later converted. I am now Eastern Orthodox, but not because of any offense on the part of the Catholic Church, the parishioners or priests. My studies eventually led me to reject the universal jurisdiction of the papacy, infallibility, and the Marian dogma’s. I still love the Catholic faith, and some of the most saintly people I know, are Catholics.

    I tire of the constant Catholic bashing that takes place, especially among the famous men who have elevated their position to be ‘Protestant Popes’, and are happy to blithely opine about the evils of the Catholic Church, while not even able to get basic Catholic theology right. It’s embarrassing to read some of the tired screeds that some protestants give to the Catholic Church, most of which are easily refuted with just a simple google search.

    There are certainly difference between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, but we have a great deal in common, and I was very happy to see the Russian Patriarch attend the Pope’s Inauguration mass, it’s a good sign that we can find more common ground and someday heal the schism.

    I still find enormous beauty in the Catholic Liturgy, and a deep reverence for the Eucharist, and most importantly, they have PEWS!!! :)

    -Paul-

    • Paul I have come to the conclusion that all faiths have problems – Yup evan agnosticism which is why I’ve moved away from it these past few months. Evangelicalism is flawed and so is Catholicism. Now..I don’t believe this “No church is perfect” crap as a means to cover up child abuse. But give it time…people’s feelings will likely change in a few years. When I lived in Wisconsin the saying there was this, “You don’t like the weather…wait 30 minutes” I feel the same way about faith and religion. I suspect that in the years to come people will change and what drew them to either evangelcalism/Catholcism/ etc… will have changed, and they will be cracing something more. Basically what I am saying is that I think humans were born to not be satisfied. And those posting here on Catholicism claiming to have found peace, joy, etc… will be itching for sometihng different in 5 or 10 years.

      It’s human nature.

      • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

        Hi Eagle !

        I was thinking how wonderful it is to read your thoughts….to see the growth and your openness to God when not all that long ago you went through that trial with your health.

        Eagle, you are correct in believing that the human person is insatiable. Only God can fulfill the void within each human being.

        As far as Catholics claiming to found peace, joy, etc…Reality is life is hard, unfair, sometimes cruel but, life is also beautiful, valuable, much to be enjoyed, wonderful experiences to be had. There is a place for suffering, a way of understanding suffering in Catholic spirituality. Catholics worship and adore Jesus Crucified – - Believe there is value in uniting our sufferings with those of Jesus, offering them on the Alter. Catholicism doesn’t teach all our troubles will go away. Catholicism does teach how we can ultimately be at peace in the midst of our suffering… to have inner peace in good times and bad. But this is a process, something we learn, something the Holy Spirit works within us. If someone is a catholic who embraces these truths I sincerely doubt they will be looking elsewhere in 5 to 10 years.

        How I wish I could sit down and share my story with you… there are many who are Catholics because in this tradition they find their relationship with Jesus comes alive on a deeper level….

    • Very nice thoughts Paul, thanks for sharing them.

      I too am beyond weary of the “Protestant Popes” railing on THE Pope, then doing many of the same things themselves. It reminds me of a saying I once heard, that always makes me chuckle: “Protestants think everyone is infallible, except for the Pope.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Finally when no other options seemed to exist, we snuck in and sat in the very back (we tried to hide actually), and where surprised to find out that we already knew most of the liturgy (from our Anglican days).

      That’s because Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran are all Western-Rite Liturgical Churches. Both Anglicans and Lutherans copied their liturgy from the Mass, with changes to fit their particular doctrines. High Church Anglican especially was close to Catholic, to minimize the change among the common people.

  25. This entire discussion, which i have greatly enjoyed, reminds me of a book that came out just last year, that may be of help/interest to some here.

    The title of the book is “Journeys of Faith” and the publisher is Zondervan. The general editor is Robert L Plummer. The book is essentially four stories. One is an Evangelical who converted to RC, one is an Evangelical who converted to EO, one is an Evangelical who is now Anglican, and the last one is a former RC who is now Evangelical. But each of the four stories has 3 chapters. In chapter 1 (of each section), the person who converted explains why. Then, the second chapter is writen by someone who basically challenges them and their assertions. Then, in the third chapter, the person who converted (and wrote the first chapter) gets the last word to respond to their “challenger”. This is the pattern for each of the four stories. It’s really a very interesting book.

  26. The Dalai Lama : Pope Francis = Madonna : Britney Spears

    So maybe we should all swim the uh, Yarlung Tsangpo and read big thick books on Prasangika Madhyamaka philosophy. The liturgy and theology is very impressive, but do they have a good youth program?

    Other than the Tiber and Bosporus, what other bodies of water are available to be swum? Hindus have the Ganges, obviously. Jewish converts can’t very well swim the Jordan–not only is the water too sparse, but they might be confused with Baptists. When one converts from Catholicism to Anglicanism, does one swim the English Channel? Have new Presbyterians swum Lock Ness?

    Gad, every time Pope Frankie takes a dump, the media gush about how humble he is, and how this shows that he’s a man of the people. They used to report on Obama this way too. I wonder how all these people who are considering Catholicism thanks to his example will react when he turns out to be one of the Bad Popes? One molestation charge or something, and the media will turn on him, just you watch.

    • Oh, don’t worry, they’ve already started charging that he didn’t do enough during the junta years in Argentina and/or actively supported the murderous government.

      • I’m willing to cut people who live under regimes like that some slack, give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m more troubled by his (and his church’s) openly-held positions.

        Most of the complaints made about James MacDonald (the scandal-ridden preacher one article down) could be made of the Catholic Church.

  27. The Roman Catholic Church will still be here centuries from now, long after the evangelical collapse predicted here – and I agree about that. The Orthodox Churches will be here as well. And – perhaps – an international Anglican Church

    What else?

    The other mainstream churches are in free-fall. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists may survive as tiny groups but it seems unlikely.

    What is left of evangelicalism is already sliding into (of all things) political correctness, with its chatter about gender essentialism and patriarchy. That is just another stop on the way to collapse, although certainly one of the more bizarre developments. Decadence can often take strange shapes.

    Eventually the Protestants who are still around in another half century will likely unite. They will have a very hard time of it.

    But Catholicism will survive, with a large and growing international church. And that has always been one of its great strengths – it is genuinely international. More people will flock to it.

    It has survived crises that have destroyed kingdoms. Even its own sins have happened before – the behavior of bishops and popes throughout history could be disgraceful. But they were always in the minority.

    And the saints have always come along.

    Theological differences will seem much less important as Christendom in the West fades into history. The Catholic Church will be a lifeline.

    • Or: Rome gets nuked during the next conclave. Unable to agree on succession, the Catholic Church divides into a dozen smaller churches, each with its own mini-pope.

      Meanwhile, several mainlines unite under the banner of Presleylutheranism. Cocooned in their own little world, the evangelicals have mutated, and become like the Amish, but with VR technology to filter out anything that is not faith-promoting. Pentecostals find that improvements in translation / interpretation technology have eliminated their biggest selling point. The last UU congregation suffers an acrimonious divide between its Buddhists and cosplayers. Atheism becomes more diverse, more welcoming of disbelievers in non-Abrahamic deities.

    • Ali Griffiths says:

      Oh I think there’ll always be more than a few of us non conformist Anabaptist types floating around the Christian world. Maybe the most important function all these different expressions of the Body of Christ is to make sure we keep thinking about what we believe and why – a sort of spiritual check and balance on each other – even if some of us don’t recognise each other as true churches at all. Too much authority and power in the hands of one group of people usually leads to disaster. At the very least, all our differences give us the opportunity to learn what loving each other means and costs.

    • And barring any large-scale worldwide unforeseen events, Islam will also still be here centuries from now.

      Which means…. what?

  28. Evelyn Waugh on his conversion to the Catholic Church:

    “Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-Glass world,
    where everything is an absurd caricature,
    into the real world God made;
    and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly”

    “Today we can see it on all sides as the active negation of all that Western culture has stood for. Civilization – and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe – has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity and, without, it has no significance or power to command allegiance. The loss of faith in Christianity and the consequential lack of confidence in moral and social standards have become embodied in the ideal of a materialistic, mechanized state. It is no longer possible to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it rests.”

    Marvelous

    Watch the DVD of the 1981 “Brideshead Revisited”. Even with all its snobbery and insularity it is a wonderful series, and presents the drama of living as a Catholic very well.