Have you ever thought about how Catholicism began? Ask a Catholic and he’ll say his Church is the Church Christ founded. Ask a Protestant the same question about his faith and he’ll say something similar, but add, “The Faith was reformed by John Calvin/Martin Luther/John Zwingli/etc. because all the faiths of his time had gone astray.” These Protestant reformers all claimed to be returning Catholicism or an existing branch of Protestantism to its roots, to what Christ actually taught. I have several objections to that claim in general. First of all, Calvin and Luther and Zwingli cannot all have been right. In fairness, they may have all honestly believed themselves to be right, but that is not my point. If there is no other way beyond personal discretion to tell which reformer was correct, is it not possible that the original faith could be the correct one too? Another credible point is there were certainly heresies in the early Church, started by people who seemed to be thinking similarly to the reformers, but those heresies died out. However, just because the teachings of the later reformers survive to this day does not automatically mean they were any more credible than their predecessors.
The Catholic Church is Historical
John Henry Newman, while doing historical research in his quest for the true faith, observed, “What the Monophysites were then, the Anglicans are now. If it was heretical then, it’s heretical now.” A rejoinder to this might be, “Well, it’s all very well for this Newman guy, but he wanted a reason to become Catholic, didn’t he? Of course, he managed to make up excuses for it.” That statement, however, is not accurate. Newman faced great persecution for becoming Catholic, including separation from his best friend. Obviously, he would not have chosen to convert had he not believed in the truth of Catholicism. Now Newman’s example by itself is not a strong justification because surely there are others who sought truth similarly and chose Protestantism. However, Newman’s strong inclination toward the history of Christianity is what led him, through his research, to choose Catholicism. Br. Martin Davis, O.P., a more recent convert from Methodism, found in researching Catholicism that, “[The Catholic Church] didn’t suddenly pop up 500 years ago,” which aided him as well. (Find the quote at 22:32 here: http://chnetwork.org/journey-home/br-martin-davis-o-p-former-methodist/) In my own, albeit non-exhaustive, experience, history, in general, seems to point to Rome.
One other point I have yet to address regards people like Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, who thought Christianity went astray long before Luther, thus they were returning it to its much earlier roots. Now, this is really just my personal opinion, so it is not even close to a real refutation, but here it is anyway: if the changed Christianity of these reformers like Smith really is the truth of Christ’s teachings, why would He let it go underground for so long? Remember Christ’s words from the Bible which is accepted by Mormons and other reformed sects, “upon this Rock, I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” One could argue that the gates of Hell did not prevail, the truth was just hidden, but why would a good God want His people to wallow in utter ignorance for nearly two millennia? That simply does not make sense.
A further refutation is to consider other things from the Bible, such as the revelation of the 10 Commandments. Wasn’t there a time that the early Jews wallowed in ignorance? Well, they were definitely ignorant at one time, but God had reasons for revealing the truth gradually, otherwise, Christ could have been made incarnate as soon as Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden. It was not the same to say the truth had already been revealed and then hidden by evildoers; the Jews just were just not ready to receive it all at once. That is different from the truth actually being given and then disappearing completely for centuries.
Who’s the Founder of Catholicism?
To return to Catholicism as compared to other Christian or quasi-Christian denominations, the latter all had specific named reformers or founders, like Zwingli and Luther and Mary Baker Eddy. But what about Catholicism’s founder? Of course, we say the apostles were the first Catholics, following the teachings of Christ. Non-Catholics will say no, Catholicism was founded by a person or persons who were deviating from Christ. This opinion makes sense, but is there any one person or persons whom they can indicate as that founder? Surely these theoretical dissenters would have an answer for this question, but I highly doubt they would all say the same thing, and, like the reformers, the various answers cannot all be right. There is no one person who is widely accepted as the “founder” of Catholicism in the way Smith and Luther were founders, which only gives more credence to the idea that Christ is the true founder.
The Sacraments… ‘Nuff Said
Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are the only two Christian denominations which have seven sacraments. Obviously, the reformers did not like having seven, but I do and I’m glad of it. They are all ways God manifests His grace to us through tangible objects and rituals while we are still here on earth, helping us to be aware of Him all the more. For me personally, though, the two that have most helped me appreciate the Church are Confession and the Eucharist.
Regarding Confession, some people have a strong distaste for the idea we have to confess our sins to a priest. I can understand—I’ve certainly had my share of extremely painful confessions. What they may not realize is agonizing though it can be, confession can also be incredibly freeing. Once you have said your sins and the priest speaks the words of absolution, the sins are gone. And they never come back, because God forgives us totally through the sacrament. This is hard for me to understand at times, because I am so used to giving and receiving the finite human patience fond of crying, “This is the last straw!” But God, being infinitely more than human, will forgive us as long as we are willing to ask for it, up to and including the end of our lives.
For the Eucharist, it’s terrifying in a very different way from Confession, but also wonderful. It fills me with fear to actually be touching God, yet also with humility. Did He love me enough to want to come into my body? Frightening though it is, that degree of love is also incredibly amazing. Through this great gift, I feel as though He is telling me, “You are not a tabernacle; you are even greater.” Though I feel I am hardly worthy of such an honor, while He offers it, I wish to accept it.
Of Course, My Favorite Part is…
My favorite part of the Catholic faith is something not even unique to it, but something all Christians share. What is it? Hope in Christ, and hope in the next life. Even disregarding the many sorrows of this life, my greatest wish is to see Him in the next. The center of our faith is not in precepts and axioms, but in a Person, a Person so compelling that persecuted generation after persecuted generation would give up everything, even their lives, to follow Him. It is true that His love is greater than anyone else’s, and that is the biggest reason why I choose to follow Him through the Catholic Church to this day.
What are some of your reasons for loving the Faith?