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Catholicism made me Protestant
First Things ^ | 9/11/2019 | Onsi A. Kamel

Posted on 09/11/2019 10:52:15 AM PDT by Gamecock

Like all accounts of God’s faithfulness, mine begins with a genealogy. In the late seventeenth century, my mother’s Congregationalist ancestors journeyed to the New World to escape what they saw as England’s deadly compromise with Romanism. Centuries later, ­American Presbyterians converted my father’s great-­grandmother from Coptic ­Orthodoxy to ­Protestantism. Her son became a Presbyterian minister in the Evangelical Coptic Church. By the time my parents were ­living in ­twenty-first-century Illinois, their families’ historic Reformed commitments had been replaced by non-denominational, ­Baptistic ­evangelicalism.

This form of Christianity dominated my Midwestern hometown. My parents taught me to love God, revere the Scriptures, and seek truth through reason. In middle school, my father introduced me to theology, and as a present for my sixteenth birthday he arranged a meeting between me and a Catholic philosopher, Dr. B—. From high school into college, Dr. B— introduced me to Catholic thought and graciously helped me work through my doubts about Christianity. How could a just and loving God not reveal himself equally to everyone? What are we to make of the Bible’s creation stories and flood narrative? Did Calvinism make God the author of evil? My acquaintance with Dr. B— set my intellectual trajectory for several years.

The causes of any conversion (or near conversion) are many and confused. Should I foreground psychological and social factors or my theological reasoning? Certain elements of my attraction to Catholicism were adolescent, like a sixties radical’s attraction to Marx or a contemporary activist’s to intersectionality: I aimed to preserve the core beliefs of my upbringing while fleeing their bourgeois expressions. When I arrived at the University of Chicago, I knew just enough about Calvinism to hold it in ­contempt—which is to say, I knew very little. Reacting against the middle-aged leaders of the inaptly named “Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement,” I sought refuge in that other great ­Western ­theological tradition: ­Roman ­Catholicism.

During my first year of college, I became involved in campus Catholic life. Through the influence of the Catholic student group and the Lumen Christi Institute, which hosts lectures by Catholic intellectuals, my theologically inclined college friends began converting to Catholicism, one after another. These friends were devout, intelligent, and schooled in Christian history. I met faithful and holy Catholic priests—one of whom has valiantly defended the faith for years, drawing punitive opposition from his own religious superiors, as well as the ire of Chicago’s archbishop. This priest was and is to me the very model of a holy, righteous, and courageous man.

I loved Catholicism because Catholics taught me to love the Church. At Lumen Christi events, I heard about saints and mystics, stylites and monastics, desert fathers and late-antique theologians. I was captivated by the holy martyrs, relics, Mary, and the Mass. I found in the Church a spiritual mother and the mother of all the faithful. Through Catholicism, I came into an inheritance: a past of saints and redeemed sinners from all corners of the earth, theologians who illuminated the deep things of God, music and art that summon men to worship God “in the beauty of holiness,” and a tradition to ground me in a world of flux.

Catholicism, which I took to be the Christianity of history, was a world waiting to be discovered. I set about exploring, and I tried to bring others along. I debated tradition with my mother, sola Scriptura with my then fiancée (now wife), and the meaning of the Eucharist with my father. On one occasion, a Reformed professor dispensed with my arguments for transubstantiation in a matter of minutes.

Not long after this, I began to notice discrepancies between Catholic apologists’ map of the tradition and the terrain I encountered in the tradition itself. St. Ambrose’s doctrine of justification sounded a great deal more like Luther’s sola fide than like Trent. St. John Chrysostom’s teaching on repentance and absolution—“Mourn and you annul the sin”—would have been more at home in Geneva than Paris. St. Thomas’s doctrine of predestination, much to my horror, was nearly identical to the Synod of Dordt’s. The Anglican divine Richard Hooker quoted Irenaeus, ­Chrysostom, ­Augustine, and Pope Leo I as he rejected doctrines and practices because they were not grounded in Scripture. He cited Pope Gregory the Great on the “­ungodly” title of universal bishop. The Council of ­Nicaea assumed that Alexandria was on a par with Rome, and Chalcedon declared that the Roman patriarchate was privileged only “because [Rome] was the royal city.” In short, I began to wonder whether the Reformers had a legitimate claim to the Fathers. The Church of Rome could not be straightforwardly identified as catholic.

John Henry Newman became my crucial interlocutor: More than in Ratzinger, Wojtyła, or Congar, in Newman I found a kindred spirit. Here was a man obsessed with the same questions that ate at me, questions of tradition and authority. With Newman, I agonized over conversion. I devoured his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and his Apologia pro Vita Sua. Two of his ideas were pivotal for me: his theory of doctrinal development and his articulation of the problem of private judgment. On these two ideas hung all the claims of Rome.

In retrospect, I see that Newman’s need to construct a theory of doctrinal development tells against Rome’s claims of continuity with the ancient Church. And at the time, though I wished to accept Newman’s proposal that “the early condition, and the evidence, of each doctrine . . . ought consistently to be interpreted by means of that development which was ultimately attained,” I could not. One could only justify such assumptions if one were already committed to Roman Catholic doctrine and Rome’s meaningful continuity with what came before. Without either of these commitments, I simply could not find a plausible reason to speak of “development” rather than “disjuncture,” especially because what came before so often contradicted what followed.

The issue of ecclesiastical authority was trickier for me. I recognized the absurdity of a twenty-year-old presuming to adjudicate claims about the Scriptures and two thousand years of history. Newman’s arguments against private judgment therefore had a prima facie plausibility for me. In his Apologia, Newman argues that man’s rebellion against God introduced an “anarchical condition of things,” leading human thought toward “suicidal excesses.” Hence, the fittingness of a divinely established living voice infallibly proclaiming supernatural truths. In his discourse on “Faith and Private Judgment,” Newman castigates Protestants for refusing to “surrender” reason in matters religious. The implication is that reason is unreliable in matters of revelation. Faith is assent to the incontestable, self-evident truth of God’s revelation, and reasoning becomes an excuse to refuse to bend the knee.

The more I internalized ­Newman’s claims about private judgment, however, the more I descended into skepticism. I could not reliably interpret the Scriptures, history, or God’s Word preached and given in the sacraments. But if I could not do these things, if my reason was unfit in matters religious, how was I to assess Newman’s arguments for Roman Catholicism? Newman himself had once recognized this dilemma, writing in a pre-conversion letter, “We have too great a horror of the principle of private judgment to trust it in so immense a matter as that of changing from one communion to another.” Did he expect me to forfeit the faculty by which I adjudicate truth claims, because that faculty is fallible? My ­conversion would have to be rooted in my private ­judgment—but, because of Rome’s claim of infallibility, conversion would forbid me from exercising that faculty ever again on doctrinal questions.

Finally, the infighting among traditionalist, conservative, and liberal Catholics made plain that Catholics did not gain by their magisterium a clear, living voice of divine authority. They received from the past a set of magisterial documents that had to be weighed and interpreted, often over against living prelates. The ­magisterium of prior ages only multiplied the texts one had to interpret for oneself, for living bishops, it turns out, are as bad at reading as the rest of us.

But I did not remain a Protestant merely because I could not become a Catholic. While I was discovering that Roman Catholicism could not be straightforwardly identified with the catholicism of the first six centuries (nor, in certain respects, with that of the seventh century through the twelfth), and as I was wrestling with Newman, I finally began reading the Reformers. What I found shocked me. Catholicism had, by this time, reoriented my theological concerns around the concerns of the Church catholic. My assumptions, and the issues that animated me, were those of the Church of history. My evangelical upbringing had led me to believe that Protestantism entailed the rejection of these concerns. But this notion exploded upon contact with the Protestantism of history.

Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Hooker, Herman Bavinck, Karl Barth—they wrestled with the concerns of the Church catholic and provided answers to the questions Catholicism had taught me to pose. Richard Hooker interpreted the Church’s traditions; Calvin followed Luther’s Augustinianism, proclaimed the visible Church the mother of the faithful, and claimed for the Reformation the Church’s exegetical tradition; Barth convinced me that God’s Word could speak, certainly and surely, from beyond all created realities, to me.

Catholicism had taught me to think like a Protestant, because, as it turned out, the Reformers had thought like catholics. Like their pope-aligned opponents, they had asked questions about justification, the authority of tradition, the mode of Christ’s self-gift in the Eucharist, the nature of apostolic succession, and the Church’s wielding of the keys. Like their opponents, Protestants had appealed to Scripture and tradition. In time, I came to find their answers not only plausible, but more faithful to Scripture than the Catholic answers, and at least as well-represented in the traditions of the Church.

The Protestants did more than out-catholic the Catholics. They also spoke to the deepest needs of sinful souls. I will never forget the moment when, like Luther five hundred years earlier, I discovered justification by faith alone through union with Christ. I was sitting in my dorm room by myself. I had been assigned Luther’s Explanations of the Ninety-Five ­Theses, and I expected to find it facile. A year or two prior, I had decided that Trent was right about justification: It was entirely a gift of grace consisting of the gradual perfecting of the soul by faith and works—God instigating and me cooperating. For years, I had attempted to live out this model of justification. I had gone to Mass regularly, prayed the rosary with friends, fasted frequently, read the Scriptures daily, prayed earnestly, and sought advice from spiritual directors. I had begun this arduous cooperation with God’s grace full of hope; by the time I sat in that dorm room alone, I was distraught and demoralized. I had learned just how wretched a sinner I was: No good work was unsullied by pride, no repentance unaccompanied by expectations of future sin, no love free from selfishness.

In this state, I picked up my copy of that arch-heretic Luther and read his explanation of Thesis 37: “Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.” With these words, Luther transformed my understanding of justification: Every Christian possesses Christ, and to possess Christ is to possess all of Christ’s righteousness, life, and merits. Christ had joined me to himself.

I had “put on Christ” in baptism and, by faith through the work of the Spirit, all things were mine, and I was Christ’s, and Christ was God’s (Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 3:21–23). His was not an uncertain mercy; his was not a grace of parts, which one hoped would become a whole; his was not a salvation to be attained, as though it were not already also a present possession. At that moment, the joy of my salvation poured into my soul. I wept and showed forth God’s praise. I had finally discovered the true ground and power of Protestantism: “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song 2:16).

Rome had brought me to ­Reformation.


TOPICS: Catholic; Evangelical Christian; General Discusssion; Mainline Protestant
KEYWORDS: catholic; charismatic; conversion; evangelical; kamel; onsiakamel; protestantism; romancatholic; romancatholicism; tiber
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1 posted on 09/11/2019 10:52:15 AM PDT by Gamecock
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Finally, the infighting among traditionalist, conservative, and liberal Catholics made plain that Catholics did not gain by their magisterium a clear, living voice of divine authority. They received from the past a set of magisterial documents that had to be weighed and interpreted, often over against living prelates. The ­magisterium of prior ages only multiplied the texts one had to interpret for oneself, for living bishops, it turns out, are as bad at reading as the rest of us.

Wow! We see this played out daily here on FR! Francis vs. Froman Catholics vs. most suburban Catholics.

2 posted on 09/11/2019 10:55:20 AM PDT by Gamecock (Time is short Eternity is long It is reasonable that this short life be lived in light of eternity)
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To: metmom; marshmallow; boatbums; aMorePerfectUnion; daniel1212; Mark17; Elsie; ealgeone; Iscool

Ping


3 posted on 09/11/2019 10:56:17 AM PDT by Gamecock (Time is short Eternity is long It is reasonable that this short life be lived in light of eternity)
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To: Gamecock
"I will never forget the moment when, like Luther five hundred years earlier, I discovered justification by faith alone through union with Christ."

Someone help me out here and provide me with where in the Bible this is taught. Not looking for an argument or deflection, just a Bible verse. Thanks.

4 posted on 09/11/2019 11:04:51 AM PDT by fidelis (Zonie and USAF Cold Warrior)
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To: Gamecock
Oh, whatever floats your boat..

The proof that your Catholicism wasn't all that secure is your need to blather to everyone else about your "faith journey".

Sorry your faith wasn't all that deep.

5 posted on 09/11/2019 11:07:04 AM PDT by Chainmail (Remember that half the people you meet are below average intelligence)
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To: fidelis

Respectfully recommend Romans 5.


6 posted on 09/11/2019 11:11:59 AM PDT by ealgeone
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To: fidelis

Ephesians 2:8-9 New International Version (NIV). 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.


7 posted on 09/11/2019 11:12:07 AM PDT by Mom MD
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To: Gamecock

Thank you for your testimony.


8 posted on 09/11/2019 11:15:08 AM PDT by Mom MD
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To: ealgeone
"Respectfully recommend Romans 5."

Thank you kindly. I see verse 5:1 where it says, "Therefore, since we are justified by faith..." but I do not see the word "alone."

9 posted on 09/11/2019 11:17:12 AM PDT by fidelis (Zonie and USAF Cold Warrior)
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To: fidelis

I’d be glad to try and explain the Greek behind Romans 5 that supports faith alone. Freepmail me if you’d like.


10 posted on 09/11/2019 11:18:01 AM PDT by ealgeone
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To: Gamecock

Certain elements of my attraction to Catholicism were adolescent, like a sixties radical’s attraction to Marx or a contemporary activist’s to intersectionality: I aimed to preserve the core beliefs of my upbringing while fleeing their bourgeois expressions.


That perfectly describes my 32 year old daughter’s recent conversion to Catholicism. She’s jumped in with both feet, out-catholicing the Catholics. She prays over every COURSE of a meal. She goes to mass daily, and wears one of those head coverings. But the quote from above is obviously the spirit in which it is being done.

I’ll be sharing this article with her. She has been “brainwashed” to not read anything “blessed” by the church, but we have an understanding. I think this article is exactly what she needs.


11 posted on 09/11/2019 11:19:49 AM PDT by cuban leaf (We're living in Dr. Zhivago but without the love triangle)
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To: fidelis
It doesn't have to as there is nothing else that can be done to justify us.
12 posted on 09/11/2019 11:19:59 AM PDT by ealgeone
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To: fidelis
"Someone help me out here and provide me with where in the Bible this is taught. Not looking for an argument or deflection, just Bible verse. "

Big picture answer: Have you read the entire Old Testament and New Testament? Think of the many times the New Testament teachers like Jesus and Paul went way out of their way to explain to Jews that nobody could live up to the standard and be the perfect Jew -- it's only by grace. And all the times Paul wrote that it doesn't matter if you're circumcised, eat meat offered to idols, etc. IMHO, the combined beliefs of faith alone and grace alone are a quick summary of New Testament belief being different from Old Testament belief.

But if you're more inclined to pay attention to one-liner verses, here are some:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life (John 5:24) For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life (John 6:40)

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies. (John 11:25)

13 posted on 09/11/2019 11:24:05 AM PDT by Tell It Right (1st Thessalonians 5:21 -- Put everything to the test, hold fast to that which is true.)
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To: ealgeone
"It doesn't have to as there is nothing else that can be done to justify us."

That's actually a circular argument, presuming this verse is referring to "faith alone" because one asserts that we are saved by faith alone.

If St. Paul means faith alone, and if this is such a critical doctrine, one should expect him to say so explicitly.

Seriously, I'm only looking for a verse--one verse-- that clearly asserts we are justified by faith alone.

14 posted on 09/11/2019 11:28:13 AM PDT by fidelis (Zonie and USAF Cold Warrior)
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To: cuban leaf

Nothing is sadder than someone trying to earn what they never can when God has already freely given it to them.


15 posted on 09/11/2019 11:32:50 AM PDT by Mom MD
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To: Chainmail

So the guy wants the scriptures ex the Pope.

Popes are temporary (I can’t wait for this one to be), but the teachings of Catholicism are enduring. Look past the failings of man. If you need to find another Christian faith, then chances are you never really had faith. Only a failing idea of what that faith was.

Catholic, proud to be despite this Pope and the modern failings of the men that run it.


16 posted on 09/11/2019 11:35:18 AM PDT by Reagan Disciple (Peace through Strength)
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To: fidelis; Mom MD
The exact phrase is not in the text.

However, between Romans 5 and the verses from Ephesians 2:8-9 posted by mommd, the principle is there.

IF it is not by faith alone, but by faith plus works, you have to ask the following questions:

What works do you have to do?

How many do you have to do?

Salvation now becomes incumbent upon your actions and not the one time sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

****

However, if you believe in the Trinity you will not find that in Scripture either, yet I don't know of a Christian who denies the Trinity.

The principle lesson here is something doesn't have to be explicitly said in Scritpure; yet from Scripture the principle can be learned.

17 posted on 09/11/2019 11:35:43 AM PDT by ealgeone
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To: Tell It Right
"Big picture answer: Have you read the entire Old Testament and New Testament?

Yes, many times over, in-depth and in a serious manner, as I'm sure you have. It is not a matter of not being knowledgeable of the contents of the Bible, but a difference of interpretation.

Jesus and Paul did indeed warn time and again the impossibility of being saved under the Jewish law. But since almost no Christian today believes that one could, that is not what is in dispute today. What is in dispute is whether our conduct (either bad or good) has any impact on our salvation. And, as you must know, both Jesus and St. Paul were very clear that it did.

18 posted on 09/11/2019 11:36:32 AM PDT by fidelis (Zonie and USAF Cold Warrior)
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To: Mom MD

And it is so freeing when you DO figure it out. :)


19 posted on 09/11/2019 11:38:48 AM PDT by cuban leaf (We're living in Dr. Zhivago but without the love triangle)
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To: cuban leaf

Both Luther’s and Gamecocks Aha moment.


20 posted on 09/11/2019 11:41:39 AM PDT by Mom MD
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