Archive for the 'Apologetics' Category

It’s not about me, Part III: the agony of coming home

Part I

Part II

Finishing the Chesterton quote from before:

And the third stage is perhaps the truest and the most terrible. It is that in which the man is trying not to be converted.

He has come too near to the truth, and has forgotten that truth is a magnet, with the powers of attraction and repulsion. He is filled with a sort of fear, which makes him feel like a fool who has been patronising “Popery” when he ought to have been awakening to the reality of Rome. He discovers a strange and alarming fact, which is perhaps implied in Newman’s interesting lecture on Blanco White and the two ways of attacking Catholicism. Anyhow, it is a truth that Newman and every other convert has probably found in one form or another. It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair. The man has exactly the same sense of having committed or compromised himself; of having been in a sense entrapped, even
if he is glad to be entrapped. But for a considerable time he is not so much glad as simply terrified. It may be that this real psychological experience has been misunderstood by stupider people and is responsible for all that remains of the legend that Rome is a mere trap. But that legend misses the whole point of the
psychology. It is not the Pope who has set the trap or the priests who have baited it. The whole point of the position is that the trap is simply the truth. The whole point is that the man himself has made his way towards the trap of truth, and not the trap that has run after the man. All steps except the last step he has taken eagerly on his own account, out of interest in the truth; and even the last step, or the last stage, only alarms him because it is so very true. If I may refer once more to a personal experience, I may say that I for one was never less troubled by doubts than in the
last phase, when I was troubled by fears. Before that final delay I had been detached and ready to regard all sorts of doctrines with an open mind. Since that delay has ended in decision, I have had all sorts of changes in mere mood; and I think I sympathise with doubts and difficulties more than I did before. But I had no doubts or difficulties just before. I had only fears; fears of something that had the finality and simplicity of suicide. But the more I thrust the thing into the back of my mind, the more certain I grew of what Thing it was. And by a paradox that does not frighten me now in the least, it may be that I shall never again have such absolute
assurance that the thing is true as I had when I made my last effort to deny it.

At the end of the last episode, I was in a quandary. I had become firmly intellectually convinced of the truth of Catholicism. There was not a doctrine or dogma of which I remained unconvinced: once I accepted the need for the papal office, its infallibility on matters of faith and morals, and the Magisterium, everything else fell into place. Mary didn’t bother me; the Communion of Saints made perfect sense; I didn’t even have a problem with priestly celibacy. But, I remained a Baptist.

Community was the first big obstacle. With all our talk in the Catholic internet world of the need to follow truth in everything, we tend to forget that human society is based around actual, real community life. Once in such a loving group, it is hard to leave even when you know that the fullness of the truth lies elsewhere. Such was my situation: I spent a good part of my week in the company of my Baptist friends. Between Sunday school classes, choir and “worship band” practice, helping out with the youth on Wednesday nights, and any number of social activities, my world revolved around that community.

It took me over a year from when I became convinced that the Catholic Church held the fullness of the Faith, and when I left the Baptist church for good. I’ve tried to figure out logically why it took that long, but I’m not sure that it was logical. The cognitive dissonance between living in a faith community with which I agreed less and less, and spending the life of the mind reading Catholic literature, just ate at me more, day after day. After attending the Easter Vigil at my current parish back in 2005, combined with mounting pressure from Catholic friends to be true to myself, I finally decided to talk to a priest and start RCIA. It was not easy to say goodbye to my Baptist church, but I am still best friends with many folks there, and even fill in for their pianist from time to time.

But that was just the beginning of the agony of conversion. I managed to break myself away from the Baptist church with much heartache, but I still couldn’t get up the guts to tell my family. I come from a long line of Protestants, Methodist and Lutheran on my mom’s side, Baptist on my dad’s. The stereotypical anti-Catholic prejudices run strong. So, I was deathly afraid of what they’d say. It was cowardice, pure and simple, that kept me from discussing my newfound faith with my parents–I valued familial harmony above all else. But just like with the Baptists, I finally realized that I had to tell them. I wish I could say that it was courage and conviction in the truth that made me spill the beans, but it was more that I couldn’t in good conscience actually get confirmed into the Church without telling them. The commandment to honor your father and mother weighed too hevily. After a lot of tears and a few weeks of anger, especially on my mom’s part, we reconciled, and my relationship with my parents is stronger than it’s ever been. I doubt they yet understand why I felt that I had to convert, but they realize that my Christian faith has never been deeper.

So, on December 10, 2005, at the Saturday vigil Mass, I was received into the Church, confirmed, and received the Eucharist for the first time. It was a night I’ll never forget. I have never looked back; I love my Baptist friends still and enjoy going back and accompanying their worship on the piano. But, there’s not a chance that I’d go back to Protestantism. I value the firm foundation in Christian faith that I received growing up, but there’s so much more to Catholicism that I could never leave.

Conversion was just the beginning, however. While I have never doubted my decision to convert, the honeymoon didn’t last long. In the next installment, I’ll muse on the various issues that developed as the reality of Catholic parish life in the early 21st century set in. Stay tuned…

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‘It’s not about me’ continuing soon…

Once I recover from the shock of dissertation defending (yes, you may, if you would like, call me “Dr”, although I’m no different than I was yesterday), I’ll resume with Part III: “the agony of coming home”.

It’s not about me, Part II: the courtship

Part I

Part III

Continuing with GK Chesterton’s stages of conversion:

The second stage is that in which the convert begins to be conscious not only of the falsehood but the truth and is enormously excited to find that there is far more of it than he would ever have expected. This is not so much a stage as a progress; and it goes on pretty rapidly but often for a long time. It consists in discovering what a very large number of lively and interesting ideas there are in the Catholic philosophy, that a great many of them commend themselves at once to his sympathies, and that even those which he would not accept have something to be said for them justifying their acceptance. This process, which may be called discovering the Catholic Church, is perhaps the most pleasant and straightforward part of the business easier than joining the Catholic Church and much easier than trying to live the Catholic life. It is like discovering a new continent full of strange flowers and fantastic animals, which is at once wild and hospitable. To give anything like a full account of that process would simply be to discuss about half a hundred Catholic ideas and institutions in turn. I might remark that much of it consists of the act of translation; of discovering the real meaning of words, which the Church uses rightly and the world uses wrongly. For instance, the convert discovers that “scandal” does not mean “gossip”; and the sin of causing it does not mean that it is always wicked to set silly old women wagging their tongues. Scandal means scandal, what it originally meant in Greek and Latin: the tripping up of somebody else when he is trying to be good. Or he will discover that phrases like “counsel of perfection” or “venial sin,” which mean nothing at all in the newspapers, mean something quite intelligent and interesting in the manuals of moral theology. He begins to realise that it is the secular world that spoils the sense of words; and he catches an exciting glimpse of the real case for the iron immortality of the Latin Mass. It is not a question between a dead language and a living language, in the sense of an everlasting language. It is a question between a dead language and a dying language; an inevitably degenerating language. It is these numberless glimpses of great ideas, that have been hidden from the convert by the prejudices of his provincial culture, that constitute the adventurous and varied second stage of the conversion. It is, broadly speaking, the stage in which the man is unconsciously trying to be converted.

When I left off, I was at the stage when I was becoming fair to Catholics, and learning a whole lot about the intellectual and historical underpinnings of Christianity, but I had not yet encountered apologetics for Catholicism. One day, out of the blue, I ran across a page run by a prominent Baptist convert to Catholicism. I had not thought about the weaknesses of my own Baptist faith particularly, nor the strengths of the arguments for Catholicism. I won’t rehash the countless avenues of argument available to the apologist, but suffice it to say, for me, they all had the ring of truth. I was smitten. I could not answer them. I knew they were right in the deepest core of my being. I read for hours, which turned into days, weeks, months. I raided the Catholic section of the university library for numerous books, which I devoured. Those that I couldn’t find, and which weren’t terribly expensive, I bought.

I didn’t just read Catholic apologetics; I started digging deeper into the history of the Church to try to determine whether these intellectual arguments had the backing of history. I read St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, Eusebius’ History of the Church, and any number of other documents. Since I was concurrently teaching Sunday School at my Baptist church, I devised a series on “What the Early Church Taught On…,” to try to see whether what was becoming clear to me might be interesting to others as well. I didn’t end up bringing anyone along for the ride (and to this day, I don’t understand how), but by teaching others about the teachings of the Early Church Fathers on Baptism, on the Eucharist, on worship, on confession, and on many other subjects, I came to the profound conclusion that the early Christians were not Baptists, they were not Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Pentecostals: they were Catholics. (Well, they were also Orthodox, but why I ultimately ended up a Western Christian, not Eastern, is a subject for another time.) So, I became persuaded of two things: that the Catholic faith was intellectually coherent and compelling, and that the Baptist faith was not historically grounded. The early Christians would not have recognized Baptist praise and worship, but they would have been right at home in the modern Mass (despite its awful music).

But, I was still not ready to make the plunge for reasons that I’ll expound upon later. At the same time, I also started to think more about the issue of authority in the Church. I was, and am, deeply disturbed by the ramifications of the Baptist style of church polity. Every serious decision is effectively made by majority vote of the congregation. I asked friends whose judgment I trusted within the Baptist church, including the chair of the board of deacons and my pastor, how we would be protected from making serious errors. What would keep us from, if 51% of the congregation agreed, following the liberal Baptist church down the road and ordaining and marrying active homosexuals? How would we keep from voting in a statement of faith that contained Arian heresy, or worse? The answer was singularly unsatisfying to me: that the Holy Spirit would keep us from error, and that we could always leave and form another congregation if things got too bad.

I couldn’t mesh that mentality with what I knew from reading the New Testament. Jesus, in the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, prayed to the Father that we Christians would remain one. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians, lambasted his audience for its divisions. Division is contrary to the desires of God, so the Holy Spirit cannot be leading us into it. From the Bible alone, combined with our subjective feelings and interpretations, we could not adjudicate between our conservative conclusions and the liberal ones of the church down the street. We had to fall back on tradition, no matter how much we wanted to deny it. So I realized that not only was my Baptist church practicing a version of Christianity that was quite different from the early Church, but that in denying a role for tradition, it left itself open to any wind of change that might come blowing in the future.

I was intellectually convinced that the Catholic understanding of the role of Tradition and a Magisterium to keep the Church on the right track was both viable and compelling. I was thoroughly persuaded that the Baptist/Evangelical understanding of the subjective role of the Holy Spirit, private interpretation, and democratic governance, could not prevent further fissuring of the Body of Christ nor a steady drift toward accommodation of our liberal, decadent culture.

But, yet, I could not make the move. I was stuck going to Mass when time permitted, and falling in love with the Church. But, I was still committed to my Baptist church family, my Sunday school class and my piano playing, and most of all, my Protestant family roots. Next installment, I’ll try to explain how I finally made the break.

It’s not about me, Part I: the underpinnings

Part II

Part III

A friend asked me the other day via email if I had a conversion story on my blog somewhere. I have purposefully avoided writing up a narrative of that long, drawn-out process because I was afraid that my views would be tinged with the emotions and zeal of a new convert. A year and a half out now, I think I can look back and pull together some of the threads that turned me from a contended, Evangelical/Baptist Sunday School teacher and worship team member into a traditionalist Catholic. The story won’t be linear, because my thoughts seldom run that way. I didn’t reason my way step by step into the Church, but rather, it hit me all at once that I was Catholic, and then I had to step back and work out why. I hope the picture painted will make sense come the end, but bear with me along the way.

Four and a half years ago, I attended a Baptist healthcare professional conference, where the keynote speaker, an Anglican from Canada, challenged us to ground our faith in reason–to work out why it was that we believed what we did. He peppered his talks with references from guys I’d never heard of, like Chesterton, Budziszewski, and Kreeft. I got a list of book recommendations from him, and determined that I was going to give myself a good grounding in Christian philosophy and theology. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for me, our university library had a copy of every book he recommended, so I got to work. He also recommended that I get a student subscription to the journal First Things, which would challenge me to think about my faith. And did it ever.

Not long before that conference, I’d also gotten interested in the early Church. A Catholic friend (the only serious Catholic I knew) lent me the Confessions of St. Augustine, insisting that I would find it very interesting. My view of the history of the Church at that time was something along the lines of “from the end of the New Testament to AD 1517, nothing good happened.” I then read about St. Augustine’s life, and found out that this 4th-5th century Christian was deeper in his faith than I was, and it was highly unlikely that he was Baptist. That shook up my world, not a little bit.

So, these two threads started winding together: I was reading everything I could get my hands on about Church history, philosophy, and theology. Every month’s First Things issue I devoured in a single sitting. But, I was still more-or-less a contented Evangelical–I was just a better educated one. These Catholics I was reading in First Things and elsewhere, though, they were starting to look just as Christian as myself. I started bitterly regretting the many statements I had made, disparaging Catholics as not knowing what they believed, and as idolaters or worse.

To end installment one, here’s a quote from GK Chesterton that summarizes where I was at, throughout the year 2004. This is stage one, he says. The other two, we’ll get to in time:

It is my experience that the convert commonly passes through three stages or states of mind. The first is when he imagines himself to be entirely detached, or even to be entirely indifferent, but in the old sense of the term, as when the Prayer Book talks of judges who will truly and indifferently administer justice. Some flippant modern person would probably agree that our judges administer justice very indifferently. But the older meaning was legitimate and even logical and it is that which is applicable here.

The first phase is that of the young philosopher who feels that he ought to be fair to the Church of Rome. He wishes to do it justice; but chiefly because he sees that it suffers injustice. I remember that when I was first on the Daily News, the great Liberal organ of the Nonconformists, I took the trouble to draw up a list of fifteen falsehoods which I found out, by my own personal knowledge, in a denunciation of Rome by Messrs. Horton and Hocking. I noted, for instance, that it was nonsense to say that the Covenanters fought for religious liberty when the Covenant denounced religious toleration; that it was false to say the Church only asked for orthodoxy and was indifferent to morality, since, if this was true of anybody, it was obviously true of the supporters of salvation by faith and not of salvation by works; that it was absurd to say that Catholics introduced a horrible sophistry of saying that a man might sometimes tell a lie, since every sane man knows he would tell a lie to save a child from Chinese torturers; that it missed the whole point, in this connection, to quote Ward’s phrase, “Make up your mind that you are justified in lying and then lie like a trooper,” for Ward’s argument was against equivocation or what people call Jesuitry. He meant, “When the child really is hiding in the cupboard and the Chinese torturers really are chasing him with red-hot pincers, then (and then only) be sure that you are right to deceive and do not hesitate to lie; but do not stoop to equivocate. Do not bother yourself to say, “The child is in a wooden house not far from here,” meaning the cupboard; but say the child is in Chiswick or Chimbora zoo, or anywhere you choose.” I find I made elaborate notes of all these arguments all that long time ago, merely for the logical pleasure of disentangling an intellectual injustice. I had no more idea of becoming a Catholic than of becoming a cannibal. I imagined that I was merely pointing out that justice should be done even to cannibals. I imagined that I was noting certain fallacies partly for the fun of the thing and partly for a certain feeling of loyalty to the truth of things. But as a matter of fact, looking back on these notes (which I never published), it seems to me that I took a tremendous amount of trouble about it if I really regarded it as a trifle; and taking trouble has certainly never been a particular weakness of mine. It seems to me that something was already working subconsciously to keep me more interested in fallacies about this particular topic than in fallacies about Free Trade or Female Suffrage or the House of Lords. Anyhow, that is the first stage in my own case and I think in many other cases: the stage of simply wishing to protect Papists from slander and oppression, not (consciously at least) because they hold any particular truth, but because they suffer from a particular accumulation of falsehood.

The dangers of apologetics

In the comments section of my post on the reaction to Dr. Francis Beckwith’s conversion, an interesting topic came up that I want to expand upon. I mentioned that I have essentially stopped doing Catholic apologetics because it has been harmful to my spiritual life. That is true, and I will expound on that, but I want to make a broader point: apologetics has a place, but it cannot be the primary focus of Catholic evangelism.

Back a couple of years ago, before I was actually received into the Church, when I was intellectually convinced but not emotionally ready to leave the Baptists, I helped moderate a discussion board run by a prominent ex-Evangelical Catholic apologist.* I think I’ve heard–and made–every argument known to man for Catholicism and against Protestantism, particularly in its fundamentalist variety. I’ve probably seen every prooftext thrown at Catholics by our separated brethren, and every Bible verse with which to reply to them. To use an analogy from popular film, I felt like Neo at the end of The Matrix when he realized he could control the Matrix, and fought an Agent with one arm, nonchalantly and serenely.

But, after stepping out of the world of apologetics, I realized something. After all those arguments, all those airtight syllogisms that proved the Fundamentalists wrong, I don’t remember ever hearing anyone say, “You know, Ed, you’re right. I’m wrong. I guess I should join the Catholic Church now.” Our blows did not pierce their armor. In my own case, I was already open to the Church before I ever started arguing with Catholics. That, I think, is the key: openness. If an opponent does not have a self-inflicted chink in his armor, he will not be convinced.

And, conversely, all these triumphalistic arguments that I and others made for the Church only served to create smugness. I had friends very concerned about me because of my sudden air of arrogance. I knew the Truth; I knew how to argue it; but, all I was doing is pushing people away. It hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks when one of my best friends forced me to step back and look at my behavior. I stopped trying to convert everyone by argument; I started trying to be an example of living out the Faith instead of (or in addition to) arguing for it. My convert zeal had turned me into a Pharisee. I had replaced theological error with pride and arrogance; I’m not sure which one is worse.

So, is there a place for apologetics in the service of the Church? Absolutely. We’re surrounded by people who don’t understand the Church, and have created an absurd caricature in Her place. But, apologetics outside the context of friendship and relationships will fall on deaf ears. We will be more successful at drawing people into the Fullness of the Faith only if we are their friends first, only if we love them and serve them. Our arguments for the Truth are good, and are effective, but only he who has ears will hear.

Imagine, instead, an alternate scene in The Matrix where Neo and the Agent go out for coffee and discuss what humanity can offer to the robots. Wouldn’t that have been a different ending?

* I will not name him because of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the departure of me and almost all his other moderators/administrators. We’ve all moved on, and it’s not worth going back to.

Something happened on the way…

I discovered that Luke Rivington’s classic work on the early Church and the Papacy (1894) has been scanned into the Web Archive–so, while eating lunch, I decided to browse it a bit. The introduction by the then Archbishop of Westminster, Herbert Cardinal Vaughan, blew me away. So, I cut and pasted the first page and a quarter for discussion:

vaughan1.jpg

vaughan2.jpg

vaughan3.jpg

The clarity and simplicity of Cardinal Vaughan’s words stand in stark contrast to a lot of what we hear today from our clergy when asked about conversion and the truth of our Faith. I wish I understood why.

(HT: Fr. Kimel)

The Spirit of Truth

In a recent meandering discussion on Brant Hansen’s blog, we got into the issue of the Holy Spirit guiding us into all truth. I decided that it might be better to continue the discussion over here, as this is getting way off the topic of Brant’s original post.

I first wrote:

If you rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance, how do you discern His voice from competing ones?

Brant responded:

Third, there really IS this question of “Is a church, a group of believers, adrift without hierarchy or traditional authoritative structures?”

I say no, though I admit it seems illogical. But such is mystery:

Paul describes using his conscience as confirmation, “in the Holy Spirit.” He also says when you’re a believer, you’re marked with a seal — the Holy Spirit, Who is a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.

Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the spirit of truth, and promises He (the Spirit of truth) will be with us forever. We’ll know Him, Jesus says, because He lives in us.

Then Jesus says the Holy Spirit will teach us all things(!).

Jesus says the Holy Spirit will “guide you into all truth.”

There’s no way a house church in China is on its own, and no reason to expect that it’s given to heresy, in my opinion, than a church where millions of dollars and power structures and turf are at stake.

Honestly, should we be surprised if they’re led into truth even without a copy of the Bible? I know we ARE, but should we? (Irony: People will accuse me of diminishing the role of Biblical revelation with my arguments using by Biblical revelation…)

God is the authority, and Jesus clearly said He, through the Spirit, will lead them into all truth.

Let me start off by saying that I’m no theologian either (and that I’m probably going to compress this too much for it to completely make sense). But, I’m going to pretend to be one and speculate a bit on the current situation in Christianity and whether or not we could all possibly be equally led by the Holy Spirit. I am completely convinced that Brant is convinced that he is being led by the Holy Spirit. I am also completely convinced that the Holy Spirit is guiding me. The only problem is: the Holy Spirit is guiding one of us away from organized Christianity, but the other of us into the most organized of all branches of Christendom. And Brant and I are actually closer to each other in our theology, in our beliefs, than some other people who are also equally convinced that the Holy Spirit is leading them. There are fundamentalists who are convinced that I, a Catholic, am going straight to Hell for idolatry. The Holy Spirit is teaching them that, too. Or, so they say.

Perhaps that’s a bit of hyperbole. I think most of us would agree that said fundamentalist has gone astray due to a restrictively literal interpretation of Scripture. He has been led into error, and that leading is not from the Holy Spirit. But, he surely thinks he hears the Spirit’s voice. So do the rest of us, but what guarantees us that what we’re hearing is the Spirit, and what is our own inner voice (or maybe even something demonic)? It cannot be a subjective feeling, a “burning in the bosom”. It cannot be just from your particular reading of Scripture. It can’t even be from the collective reading of your particular local Christian community. He will lead you into all truth. But how do you know it’s Him?

I think we can all agree that the New Testament Church was definitely led by the Holy Spirit into all truth. People heard, believed, and received the Holy Spirit, usually by the laying on of hands of one of the Apostles, but in the case of the centurion and family, it’s clear that there could be exceptions to that rule. The Apostles and those they appointed, deacons like St. Stephen and bishops like Sts. Timothy and Titus, were undoubtedly filled with the Holy Spirit, as were thousands of others who believed. They were united in one Faith.

But yet, even in the New Testament, there is more than a hint that Jesus’ prayer in John 16 that they all be one was already coming apart at the seams. St. Paul is abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians that divisions have occurred in the Corinthian church, and he’s none too happy about it. Most tellingly, he claims in 1 Cor 10:19, “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” To show which of you have God’s approval. Obviously, those who have God’s approval are those who stick to what St. Paul and the other Apostles were teaching.

Here is where the Catholic and Orthodox (and some Anglican) doctrine of Apostolic Succession comes into play. What happened in the generations after the Apostles? There are clues in the New Testament, in the appointment of Sts. Timothy and Titus as bishops. But, the New Testament only takes us so far. Thankfully, there are writings preserved from the early Church in the generations immediately after the NT. It is utterly indisputable, unless you want to buy into the conspiracy theory that only the writings of the big, bad “orthodox” group of Christians remain because they quashed all the other, well-meaning, Spirit-filled believers who thought otherwise, that from the beginning of the 2nd century at the latest, the Church had an episcopal structure, and these episcopal posts were handed down from generation to generation by the laying on of hands.

But, you say, we know that there were groups in the early Church that went into error, even lots of bishops that went into error. That’s certainly true. At one point in the Arian controversy in the 4th century, a vast majority of bishops had gone over to the Arian side. But, it is historical fact that the See of Rome never went into what is classically defined as heresy, and that there have always been “orthodox” bishops and communities in communion with it. For sure, that’s a bit of circular logic because we define “orthodoxy” by the stance of the Bishop of Rome (and the Eastern Orthodox do so by the doctrines defined by the first Seven Ecumenical Councils). But, we believe that through the evidence of history, and through Jesus’ declaration that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church founded upon St. Peter (and through his succession, the Bishop of Rome), that the Holy Spirit has guided the Catholic Church to all truth.

Ultimately, then, it’s a matter of faith, and a matter of history. You can place your trust in subjective feeling of guidance by the Holy Spirit, or in an apostolic Church. I prefer the latter, because I just don’t trust myself to make the judgment of whether I’m hearing the Holy Spirit, or not. I’ll finish this lengthy ramble off with a lengthy quote from my favorite Church historian, John Henry Cardinal Newman:

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

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

ADDENDUM: Some of y’all might enjoy reading Cardinal Manning’s book The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost. (And yes, it was written in 1865, and yes, I do have a tendency to value books written before 1940 or so. Their clarity is breathtaking once you get used to reading more sophisticated English than we use today.)