My daughter, who entered the Church as a 10-year-old, is now a senior at the local Baptist university. She has come up against something that all Catholics face sooner or later – dumb-as-dirt anti-Catholic bias. It turns out that she has professors who harbor the wish that she will be saved by rejecting key elements of Catholic doctrine, thus rendering her a Protestant in Catholic clothing. This is not really surprising; she has had some wonderful teachers these past couple of years (including an art professor who took the time to explain to the class the Biblical basis of the Catholic doctrine of relics, and a choir director with some very positive things to say about Pope Francis). Some professors, however, have not been so positive. Those professors would agree with the phrase, “The only good Catholic is a former Catholic.” My daughter, who was offended to have her Christianity called into question, told me sadly, “Mom, if they think I’m not a very good Christian, it’s because I need to be a better Catholic, not a worse one!”
Well put. Protestants often think that what Catholics need to do is to break from the official teachings of the Church, to adopt more Protestant ways of looking at things, more Protestant approaches to theology, more Protestant methods of worshiping God. There’s just one little thing they’ve overlooked – When we Catholics become more Protestant, we simply become part of the problem. To paraphrase the Hulk’s alter ego, David Banton:
You won’t like me when I’m Protestant.
Those Evangelicals tend to want to overlook the points of
agreement between orthodox Catholics (meaning those faithful to the teaching of the Church) and conservative Protestants. As a faithful Catholic, I am bound to confess my belief:
– in the Trinity, with God as the Creator of the universe
– the Incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, Who literally suffered, died and rose from the dead before ascending to be seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to resurrect the dead
– in the Holy Spirit Who is the third Person of the Trinity
– in the evil one who is a being we call the devil
– in salvation by grace through faith
– in the inspiration and infallibility of Holy Scripture
and in many other doctrines to which an Evangelical can only respond with a hearty “Amen!” These points of agreement are very often overlooked by people who want to tar Catholics with the same brush that they use on non-Christian cults, despite the fact that an excellent case can be made from a Protestant standpoint that anyone who worships the Triune God cannot be considered a non-Christian.
The root of the word “Protestant” is the verb “to protest.” Hoping that Catholics will begin to “protest” the authority of the Church might not turn out the way that you had hoped, my Evangelical friend. I know that you are hoping that we will embrace sola Scriptura and sola fide, 7-Day creationism and the doctrine of the secret rapture as you do when we protest the authority of the Church – but you realize that other results might be forthcoming, don’t you? Remember Victor Frankenstein? He too meant no harm, but experiments with multiple variables can be hard to control….
There are Catholics who are doing exactly what you think you want Catholics to do – breaking from the official teachings of the Church. That, in essence, makes those Catholics “protestant” because they reject the exclusive authority of the Catholic Magisterium (the teaching office of the Church) to interpret Holy Scripture. Those folks have got “a better idea,” just as Martin Luther did when he decided to teach that justification is NOT by faith (as the Church teaches), but rather by faith ALONE. They’ll tell you, just as Luther insisted, that they won’t let the Catholic Church do their thinking for them! They think for themselves! Just what you are hoping Catholics will say!
Cue the sinister music, because this is where things start to get ugly. You think Catholics should reject the authority of the Church, just as you do? Well, these folks agree with you completely; they reject any claims the Catholic Church makes to the exclusive authority of interpreting Scripture. They therefore deny the Virgin Birth, the literal Resurrection of Jesus from the dead as well as our own future resurrection, the existence of Satan, and the infallibility of Scripture, while proposing a host of other doctrinal novelties that will curl your Protestant hair! In this they are not alone; there are plenty of liberal Protestants who will gladly join hands with them in insisting that God is whatever they happen to believe She is. This scary little group will merrily deconstruct the narrative of salvation history, disassemble the canon of Scripture, and decry the belief in a future life as a holdover from medieval foggery. They will agitate for abortion, euthanasia and same-sex everything and anything. These men and women will be only too happy to join with Protestants in affirming the one and only doctrine all Protestants can agree on – the Catholic Church is WRONG!
But they are NOT your friends, dear Evangelical. Trust me. They are your worst nightmare.
The Catholic Church teaches that Protestants are our fellow Christians, our separated brethren. Might you come to the point where you can consider us your friends in Christ? Just remember, inciting protest can backfire. Some very volatile chemicals react in that mix. I would rethink that wish that Catholics might become more Protestant, if I were you. Because sometimes wishes come true…
… and you might be creating a monster!
On the memorial of St. Paschal Baylon
Deo omnis gloria!
Photo credit: The Incredible Hulk by Jeremy Thompson
Nøkken by Theodor Kittelsen