Having been brought up in the Presbyterian Church, the son of a Presbyterian minister, I was profoundly aware of the importance of the Bible as the “unique and authoritative guide for faith and life.” So as a pastor, preaching every Sunday, I studied the Scriptures assiduously to discover the truth. I became very uneasy very quickly for I began to realize that fundamental pillars of the Protestant position were not supported by Scripture itself.
1. The Doctrine of the three “solas” not biblical. After my ordination into the ministry, I soon began to discover some cracks in the doctrinal structure of the Reformed Tradition. At a conference, sponsored by the most rigorous of the Presbyterian Church, I saw a large banner highlighting the three great Reformed distinctives: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fides, and Sola Gratia. I raised the question, “Where are those found in the Bible?” It seemed reasonable to assume that since the Bible was the “unique and authoritative guide,” for our tradition, these doctrines should be prominently displayed therein. But when I dug deeper, I could not find any of the three in Scripture itself. I was then horrified to find that the origin of Sola Fides was Martin Luther’s mistranslation of Romans 3:28. He had added the word “only” fully knowing that it was not in the original Greek. So the first of the three great pillars of Protestantism was not even present in Scripture! Hence, the cardinal protestant doctrine of “Scripture alone” was not the correct statement of this truth.
2. “Faith alone” not accurate. I had had some questions about “salvation by faith alone” and how such a doctrine related to the demands of Jesus for holiness and the moral life. Many of the teachings of Jesus seemed to demand “works” for salvation. For example, the merciful actions caring for those who suffer revealed in the vision of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, the requirement that believers forgive others in Matthew 6:12, 14-15, the active care of the neighbor manifested by the Good Samaritan, Luke 10, or the explicit teaching of Romans 2 and 2 Cor. 5:10. I have since found nearly thirty different references to the need of works for salvation in the New Testament alone. Suffice it to say that my Protestant self-assuredness was shaken. To find on the one hand that this Protestant phrase, “salvation by faith alone,” was based on an interpolation by Luther into a text of the key word, “only”, and on the other to discover so many passages that explicitly stated that our salvation was dependent upon our works made possible in a state of grace, called into question the entire manner in which protestants dealt with faith and works.
3. Protestant understanding of Sola Gratia not accurate and undercutting of the call to holiness. “Faith Alone” was always combined with Sola Fides to mean that we were saved by God’s grace alone without any cooperation with that grace by our works. But then the Lectionary led me to James:
What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (2:14-17).
The typical Reformed answer to this is to say that there is no true faith if there is no evidence to prove that faith. The argument rejects any role for works in gaining our salvation, allowing only that works demonstrate saving faith. That seemed to me to be a coherent argument but it wasn’t what the passage said. In verse 21 James doesn’t say that Abraham showed that he had been justified by faith by offering Isaac on the altar. James says:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works… You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone… For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead. (Js. 2:22-24,26).
This passage said very clearly that faith and works are interdependent, not independent of each other. Here in the biblical (Catholic) position, works are not seen just as a sign of faith but as an integral part of faith. I had to pose the question to myself, “How could Luther first ignore this explicit passage, calling James “an epistle of straw” and then insert into that passage of Romans something that was not there? I knew that something smelled rotten but I had not yet discovered Nominalism. So I searched farther. In Romans 2:6 St. Paul says, “For he (God) will render to every man according to his works.” In fact, St. Paul says eight separate times in Romans 2 that salvation or damnation is dependent upon what we do, not upon “faith alone.” Furthermore, Jesus says in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me “‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Additionally, the difference between the man who built his house on the sand and the man who built his house upon the rock is not a question of faith and non-faith but a question of obedience vs. disobedience. I had never ever heard a Protestant make that distinction. And finally, my reading of the vision of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 certainly seemed to indicate to me that the difference between the saved and the lost depended not upon faith alone but upon faithful service to “the least of these my brethren.” All of the above passages of Scripture seemed to me to require a responsive cooperation with grace was a forbidden Catholic error of “works righteousness.” I am now convinced that many Protestants (and some Catholics) have huddled too long at the throne of cheap grace. The grace of the Lord Jesus in the Catholic Church is a costly grace.
To a Catholic reader these revelations must appear to be obvious; but to me, on a journey of faith from a more limited tradition to the Universal Tradition, each was a momentous discovery. Each was submitted to extensive discussion and evaluation with other Reformed friends. Each time I came away unsatisfied with the response I had received.
4. Sola Scriptura unbiblical. But Sola Scriptura still remained as the most fundamental Reformational bedrock. All Protestants know how Catholics have added to the clear truth of the Gospel, both from their own tradition and from the world surrounding them. Imagine my surprise and dismay when in reading the Lectionary passages I came across:
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess 2:15).
There it was! Not “Scripture Alone” but the Apostolic Oral Tradition and the written tradition (Scripture) together. For years I confronted Evangelical seminarians and seminary faculty with this passage, to their confusion.
So by now I had found that all three of the great Reformed distinctives, Sola Fides, Sola Gratia, and Sola Scriptura were not only not contained in Scripture but that the exact opposite to each of these Protestant doctrines appeared explicitly in Scripture.
I began to become a bit uneasy. First, my tradition was not holding together very well. Secondly, being Presbyterian minister is an attractive, fairly comfortable, very independent kind of position. That comfort and that independence were being threatened. Thirdly, if my studies continued in the direction they seemed to be going, I might have to admit to my very gracious but very pro-Catholic wife that she might be right. So I remained mute and continued my studies.
While I had failed to find scriptural foundations for the three great Reformed “distinctives,” I did find a great deal in the Sacred Scriptures to support the Catholic understanding of the Sacraments.
5. The sacraments as means of entering into a personal relationship with Christ. One of the most precious elements in evangelical Protestantism is that of insisting that believers enter into a “personal relationship” with Christ. This is both biblically accurate as well as mentioned twice in the Catechism (cf. ##299 and 2558). Articles 355 and 356, among many others speak of Friendship with God. For Protestants this language communicates the importance of having personal faith and commitment with Jesus. The following observation is something that is generally lost to Catholicism today but still exists in the Liturgy. Every sacrament involves (or originally involved) the faithful taking a solemn vow or promise directly and personally with God before receiving the sacrament. If correctly understood, this requires an informed and personal assent to the standards or demands of Jesus before receiving the sacramental graces endowed by the sacrament. Understood in this manner, the sacraments of the Catholic Church demand that the faithful establish a clear-cut personal commitment in faith and obedience to God that is much more specific and deeper than anything I know required by Protestant Churches. As we will see later, this intimate, personal acquaintance with Jesus and His Word is further developed in the spiritual practices of the Catholic Church, especially in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
6. The Sacraments are not creations either of the post-Constantinian Church or of the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages but all have an explicitly biblical foundation. As I continued my biblical studies I increasingly found foundations for all seven sacraments, something that both Luther and Calvin denied. Again I found St. Thomas’s explanation for this to be most accurate, especially as he made a distinction between “institution” and “promulgation” of the sacraments based on John 14:26.
7. Scripture teaches the sacraments as imparting a spiritual reality, not just being symbolic of it. My first question concerning Catholic beliefs and the sacraments pertained to the “real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, indeed, in all the Sacraments. Is Jesus really manifested and imparted through the sacraments by the Holy Spirit, or are the sacraments only external “signs and seals” of a spiritual reality which is imparted invisibly and previously by faith? Are the Baptists right in asserting that these actions are only ordinances of our Lord but not sacraments? Within the Reformed tradition there are two routes one can follow. The first, that of Calvin in Geneva, affirms Christ’s real presence in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Calvin attempted to defend the reality of the sacraments while not using Aristotelian metaphysics. The second tradition, which is dominant in the 20th Century Reformed Church, is that of Zwingli in Zurich. A more thoroughgoing rationalist than Calvin, Zwingli rejected sacramental reality altogether. His beliefs are present throughout the Reformed Tradition as well as that of the Evangelical and Baptist free churches. But Scripture seems to describe these actions as powerful sacraments. This I found to be true in 1 Cor. 11, John 6 (Eucharist), Acts 8 (Confirmation) and 1 Peter 3 (Baptism). So in this very important area of sacramental theology, I began to find the Catholic Church Biblically accurate whereas in Protestantism, I found evasive explanations unrepresentative of the Biblical texts.
8. Scripture teaches the real presence, not just a symbolic presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For example, in relation to the Eucharist, St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (vv. 27-30, my emphasis).
This seemed to me to be contradictory. How could a practice that is only an “empty symbol” cause such results? If it were only a symbol, representing benefits given invisibly by God by faith or some other “spiritual” means, how could its misuse cause illness and death? That would be possible only if the power of God were mediated by means of the Lord’s Supper itself. From this point on I became intentionally more sacramental. And the observation was not lost on my consciousness that only the very liturgical churches, like the Catholics, the Orthodox, and the Episcopalian churches treated the Eucharist with a respect appropriate to this power. In addition, in the other key text which treats the reality of the Eucharist, John 6, Jesus used vocabulary that is very literal when describing eating his flesh and drinking his blood. When many of his disciples “drew back” and no longer went about with him, Jesus did not say to them, “I’m sorry fellows, you misunderstood me. I didn’t mean to be so literal.” Rather, Jesus affirmed his words and explained those who had drawn back as unbelievers (Jn 6:61-67).
9. Baptism not just a symbolic act but effects regeneration. In a relationship to the sacrament of baptism, I experienced the same kind of growth. For most Protestants baptism is the external sign and seal of the interior cleansing that Jesus gives when persons are regenerated by faith, but it is not itself regenerative. So I was disturbed when I found passages like 1 Peter 3:21, “Baptism, which corresponds to this (Noah’s salvation in the Ark), now saves you…” and Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” In the baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended upon him immediately after baptism, not before, which should have done had his baptism been only a visible sign of a previously bestowed, invisible grace. Furthermore, biblical scholars are almost united in affirming that John 3:5 is a reference to baptism (“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”). In Romans 6, it is baptism which the believer becomes part of the Church, the Body of Christ! Traditionally Presbyterians did agree with this, but most evangelical, charismatic, and fundamentalist Protestants did not. It seemed to me that Scripture described baptism as actually doing something, being regenerative, ordinarily necessary for salvation. So the Catholic position on baptism also seemed to me to be more accurately biblical that either the Protestant or the Presbyterian position. It was becoming more difficult to have theological discussions at home with my wife. We found that if we did Bible reading for devotions, devotions would degenerate into theological arguments. So we began doing separate but equal silent devotions.
10. Confirmation not just a rite of passage but bestowal of the Holy Spirit for strengthening. I found the same type of arguments to be true in the case of confirmation. The Presbyterian Church of which I was a member did not consider confirmation either to be a sacrament or to confer real power. It was more of a rite of passage, accomplished primarily by attending a class, more than by just taking vows, and being received publicly into the church as an adult member. All of these are validly part of the preparation for confirmation or are a result of confirmation. But, after having to go back to Catholic sources for the origins of this sacrament, I found that it was based upon the laying on of hands at the time of adult baptism. When infant baptism was practiced in the Latin (Roman) Church, the laying on of hands was withheld until the child had reached the age of reason and could make his own profession of faith, thereby allowing him to fulfill the admonitions concerning the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11. Then, in imitation of the Apostolic practice, hands were laid on the person for the strengthening power of the Holy Spirit after the profession of faith. When I returned to Acts 8 for the laying on of hands was indeed the means of transferring the power of the Holy Spirit:
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8: 18-19).
11. Priests being delegated the authority for forgiving sins by Jesus making the Sacrament of Penance explicitly biblical (Mt 16:18-19; Mt 18:18; Jn 20:22-23; CCC 1441-1442). The Reformed churches teach that no man, only God, can forgive sins. But what about Matthew 16:19? Is not Jesus explicitly delegating this power to the Apostles here?
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt. 16:19).
John, also, records that Jesus explicitly delegated the power to forgive sins:
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).
When the first passage is seen in the light of its Old Testament antecedents in Isaiah 22:19-22, it becomes clear that Scripture is talking not just about Peter, but about an office in the church which is to be exercised in the manner of a father who is head of the covenant people.
12. The Anointing of the sick, Holy Orders and Marriage also biblical means of receiving the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. St. Thomas argues that extreme unction is one of the sacraments that Jesus instituted but did not himself publish. The Apostles, rather, published this teaching of Jesus after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is clear that Jesus sends out the twelve with authority over unclean spirits to heal (Mk 6:13, Mt 10:1, Lk 9:1-6). This sacrament is clearly referred to in James 5:14, which also makes it known that oil is the material used to anoint the sick.
Concerning Holy Orders, Trent observes that the New Testament refers to priests and deacons (1 Tim 3:8-10, Acts 3:6) as well as evangelists (Acts 21:8). St. Paul reminds Timothy of the power conferred when Paul ordained him (2 Tim 1:6-7). To this we could add Tit 1:5-9 where St. Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders (priests or bishops). Trent also recognizes the Pauline lists of different offices (1 Cor 12:28-29, Eph 4:11), the existence of elders who were overseers (Acts 20:17, 28), and a hierarchy among them. Trent taught that Jesus instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper. Vatican II, in adopting the triple function of prophet, priest, and king, and in recognizing the bishops as successors to the Apostles implies that this commission was given by Jesus in passages such as the Great Commission of Mt 28:19-20.
Concerning marriage, I observed that it is the one sacrament in which the Greek word which came to designate sacrament, musterion (mystery), is actually applied to this practice (Eph 5:32). Jerome chose the Latin, sacramentum to express the Greek, musterion, when he produced the Vulgate. Also as foundational to this sacrament are Mt 19:4 and Mk 10:8-9.
After discovering that the three “Solas” were not in Scripture, after finding an explicit biblical foundation for the sacraments that really were “means of grace,” not just signs of it, I then also found that the Catholic teaching about the authority of Church teaching (the authority of the Magisterium) was also explicitly biblical.
13. The role of Peter, the Petrine Office and Magisterial Authority which expresses the mind of the Church and leads us to truth is also explicitly biblical. The development of the sacraments is often attacked by Protestants as an unbiblical and illegitimate assertion by the Church. For them the source of truth is Scripture alone. But what, according to Scripture is the pillar and bulwark of the truth?” Before my studies I would have confidently (and ignorantly) answered, “the Bible.” Any Protestant will immediately answer, “the Scriptures or the Bible.” But then what does one do with 1 Timothy 3:14-15? Almost incidentally, in the process of giving instructions to Timothy, St. Paul describes the authority of the Church in this manner:
I hope to come to you soon; but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how to behave in the household of God; which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim 3:14-15).
This passage clearly states that the Church, not the Scripture, is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” It affirms the role of the Church in protecting the truth and in interpreting Sacred Scripture. My friend, Marcus Grodi, helped me see the logical, biblically based development of the Petrine office. His research not only exposed the pre-Christian model for church structure which assumed the office of the High Priest, but also demonstrated the extensive biblical foundations for Jesus’ commissioning of Peter , Peter’s role in the infant church, the testimony of St. Paul’s epistles as well as the testimony of the early church. This pre-eminence of Peter is very evident once it has been pulled together. It seems to me that some recalcitrant spirit in Protestantism simply resisted such research and reflection.
With the above passages dealing with both the Apostolic a Petrine authority, one can clearly see the truth expressed by the Second Vatican Council:
It is clear, therefore, that in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected an associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls (Dei Verbum [DV], 10c).
So once again I found the Catholic position on grace an works, on the nature of faith, on the sacraments of the Church, as well as on the authority of the Church, the Papacy an the Petrine Office to be the most in line with the scriptural record. While I was aware that my study was taking me in a profoundly Catholic direction, my congregation was delighted with the increasing depth an spirituality of practices that I was introducing as “biblical discoveries.” But internally I was experiencing greater an greater tension between my theology and the Presbyterian positions. And talking with my wife was not becoming easier. It was becoming embarrassing.
There are a number of additional reasons for being Catholic that relate specifically to the Biblical witness. Let me summarize them here. I had been brought up to think that Catholic really feared the use of Scripture and hence were generally ignorant of it. What a shock to find the high positions actually given to it in the liturgy and for personal spiritual growth.
14. The very high position of respect and authority given to Sacred Scripture in the Catholic Church. My prejudices concerning Catholic scorn and ignorance for the Scriptures were confronted by the very prominent position given to the Bible in Catholic liturgy. I remember when I first went to Mass and Catholics carried in the Bible in the introductory procession to start the Mass. The Bible was actually elevated in the hands of the deacon, over his head and was reverenced more than I had ever done as a Protestant. Then, in the Mass, there were three readings, usually coordinated from the Old Testament, the Epistles and the Gospel. Furthermore, the congregation had little devotional actions which related to the hearing and understanding of the Word of God, which we did not do, and at the Gospel reading the entire congregation always stood out of respect for the New Testament testimony to Jesus. We did not do that. I thought this was very consistent with the Protestant belief concerning the importance of the Word of God but when I proposed doing it in our Church, I was told that doing such a practice was “Catholic” and inappropriate for us. I began to wonder if my Presbyterian faith was more based on being anti-Catholic than it was on respect and dependence for the Word of God.
Later, in my studies, I read the official Catholic document from the Second Vatican Council on the authority of the Word of God in the Church, Dei Verbum. I was absolutely shocked. In addition to providing an excellent theological statement on the nature of divine revelation, it documented in detail the high esteem that Sacred Scripture should have in the lives of Catholics. A few examples: The attitude the Church should take toward Scripture is “veneration.” The text equates the importance of the Sacred Scripture with that of the Holy Eucharist, partaking of the bread of life an offering it to the faithful “from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ” (DV, 21). They are, taken together with sacred Tradition, as the “supreme rule of faith.” Access to sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian Faithful” (DV, 22). The Sacred Scripture is the “rejuvenating force that keeps theology alive” and the “study of the sacred page” ought to be the very soul of sacred theology” (DV, 24). And, finally concerning its importance for the faithful, “the sacred Synod forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… to learn “the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ’” (DV, 25a). I was then overwhelmed. Having found the position of “sola scriptura” to be inaccurately presented and interpreted in Protestantism, I then found a stronger, more intellectually accurate position on the importance of Sacred Scripture in Catholicism; the Church that I thought ignored and scorned God’s precious word. Not only was Scripture truly given a more respectful and authoritative position in the Catholic Church, its use was more comprehensive.
15. More comprehensive use of Sacred Scripture in preaching. The first source that enlightened my awareness of the use of Scripture in the Catholic Church was my Protestant professor of worship who recommended the new of the new ecumenical (Vatican) lectionary to guide our preaching. He pointed out that even such an excellent pulpiteer as Billy Graham would only preach on about twenty percent of the texts of the New Testament. He showed us that the Catholic Church had a great solicitude to read, to listen to, to study, and to preach a much more comprehensive selection of Scripture than any Protestant Church. As I later came to realize, this usage was based on a historical method that was more accurate and more pastorally useful than the historical critical method currently in vogue in most main-line Protestant schools.
16. Catholic principles for interpreting the Scriptures as most philosophically and historically accurate. The Catholic Church affirms both the “historical” method as well as the “historical-critical” method for interpreting the Scriptures. But the “historical-critical” method must be used within carefully established parameters. I had known that the inherent skepticism and presumption of doubt inherent in the historical-critical method of Scriptural studies led to a number of negative consequences for the faith community. It was not until studies at the Franciscan University of Steubenville that I even heard of the “historical” method, that is, the “four senses” of Scripture (the literal, allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. See the CCC, 115-119). It was this method that St. Augustine affirmed so strongly in his Confessions in that it allowed him to move beyond a rigid literalism.
I now judged that the Catholic faith,… could be maintained without being ashamed of it. This was especially the case after I had heard various passages in the Old Testament explained most frequently by way of allegory, by which same passages I was killed when I had taken them literally. Hence when many passages in those books were explained spiritually, I now blamed my own despair… (bk. 5, chpt. 14).
I often heard Ambrose speaking in his sermons to the people as though he most earnestly commended it as a rule that “the letter kills, but the spirit quickens (bk.6, chpt4, cf. 2 Cor 3:6).
I later discovered that the Scottish Presbyterian biblical scholar, William Barclay, in his Daily Study Bible, Galatians, chpt 4, explained the various senses of Scripture that had been applied by the rabbis. So there had always been various levels for interpreting the sacred texts. Why had this background not been taught to me in seminary? Why had I not even been exposed to it, even if it could be refuted or discarded? Why had I had to come to the Catholic Church, the Church which I had always been taught was so unbiblical, in order to discover the principles that had governed the interpretation of Scripture for thousands of years?
The Catholic Church also had the best position for criticizing the historical-critical approach. An uncritical, indiscriminate embracing of the historical-critical method of scriptural analysis may be one of the most destructive elements in twentieth century Christianity. Catholic biblical scholarship provides an excellent foundation to evaluate this issue. The Catholic Church also has a very high quality of technical, advanced Bible study. This depth and precision is a major reason for becoming Catholic. At this time in history it is difficult to establish a balance between the older historical method and the newer historical-critical methods. The historical-critical method can provide for a rigorous evaluation of the literal sense of the passages. Especially in the Catholic tradition, one can then combine this scientific linguistic study with the resources of the Fathers of the Church as well as the spiritual senses in the text. While I am convinced that much of modern bible study has adopted too much of the historical-critical methods too uncritically, the teaching magisterium of the Church has established guidelines for the use of this method which are mindful of its methodological and philosophical presuppositions. We will see later in Chapter Two how the profound appreciation for the history of philosophy provides such a superior position for evaluating this recent approach to biblical studies.
These three positions, giving Sacred Scripture greater respect than in Protestantism, its more comprehensive use, better principles for interpreting it, and the way the study of the history of philosophy informed the critique of modern biblical scholarship; these prompted a serious paradigm shift in my thinking. This shift was accelerated by continued studies in which I found that Catholic practices that I had formerly ridiculed as demonstrating ignorance of Scripture really represented a more comprehensive appreciation of the content of the Word of God than that held by Protestants.
17. Many Catholic practices and traditions really based in Scripture. The second source of this awareness of the Biblical foundations of the Catholic Church was my wife, Patricia. As we discussed, argued and even fought over many practices of the Catholic Church, I learned from my very well-trained wife that many Catholic practices, which I had been taught were human inventions, really had their roots in Sacred Scripture. Several examples would be kneeling as a position for prayer, the celebrations of the “novena” being a form of prayer taken from the nine days before Pentecost, the emphasis on our sacrifice and our sufferings being positive an being able to be “offered up” to be united with the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24, Rom 8:17, 1 Pet 4:12-19). This was thoroughly embarrassing! Let me briefly share a few more examples. For me, the discovery of these was like Chinese water torture. Drop after drop of truth revealed the weakness of my Protestant position.
18. Calling priests “Father.” Catholics are often criticized for calling priests “Father,” whereas Jesus says, “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matt 23:9). To make this accusation reveals ignorance, ignorance of the cultural situation of the Matthew reference and ignorance of St. Paul’s description of himself as the “spiritual father” of believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 4:15 and Phil. 10). Jesus is criticizing the arrogance of the Pharisees as they arrogated titles such as teacher and father unto themselves, not meaning to apply it to all areas of life. St. Paul illustrates his understanding of spiritual leaders taking the role of “spiritual fathers.” “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became you father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). This is precisely the reason that Catholics call priests father. Most Protestants implicitly recognize what Jesus is doing for I do not know of any Protestant family where the children are not encouraged to call their daddy, “Father.”
19. The distinction between venial and mortal sins. (Jn. 23:9; 1 Jn. 5:16-17; CCC 1852-1861). I found that one of the most emotionally intense of the common critiques of the Catholic Church regarded the distinction between mortal and venial sins. All Protestants that I knew, and especially evangelicals, stress that any sin is sin and that Catholics are really being “soft” on sin when they assert that some sin is more serious than others. Again, I was embarrassed to find that Jesus, St. John and St. Paul indicate that some sins are greater or lesser than others. Jesus affirms this truth when he is before Pilate (Jn. 23:9). St. John makes an explicit distinction between sin that is mortal (deadly) and that which is not (1 Jn. 5:16-17). St. Paul identifies certain sins that cause persons not to inherit the Kingdom of God, making such sinners deserving of death (Rom 1:28-32); I Cor. 6:9-11; Gal 5:16-21). This issue is dealt with clearly in the Catechism.
20. The Catholic understanding of the Communion of Saints more comprehensive and more spiritual. While I knew that all Christians affirmed belief in the “communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed, I really had no idea of what it meant. There certainly is a rational, this worldly level of understanding of this doctrine. We all affirm the need for good heroes. The stories of their exploits inspire and guide. Additionally, Calvin accented the economic aspect of being part of the Church when he stressed sharing (communion) among believers. This was certainly present in the early Church (Acts 2:44), and Calvin recalled the importance of this same sharing among believers today. These approaches fit comfortably into my secular, rationalistic mindset.
But there is a more spiritual aspect to this doctrine that I was missing. The architecture of the chapel of the Dominican house of studies in Dubuque, Iowa, pushed me further. Surrounding worshippers on four sides were statues of twenty-four Dominican saints. Many were martyrs or confessors of the Church. My wife amazed me by knowing the identity of each by its particular symbolism. I realized what a powerful resource it would be to have read all their lives and to have all that in one’s memory during Mass and daily office. Furthermore, I recalled the words of James, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects (Js. 5:16c). Moreover, these saints are not present just in our memories. They are really, spiritually present with us in our worship, especially in the Eucharist. The greater depth and vitality of the Catholic understanding of that doctrine came alive for me. Additionally, while the Bible does not mention explicitly the veneration and invocation of saints, there is scriptural warrant for the practice. There is veneration offered angels (Jos. 5:14; Dan. 8:17l Tob. 12:16). Judas Maccabaeus saw in a vision how two deceased men interceded with God for the Jews (2 Macc. 15:11-16). Jeremiah himself wrote that Moses and Samuel made intercession for the Jews apparently after their deaths (Jer. 15:1). Protestant scholar William Barclay recognizes that in later Jewish literature the idea of heavenly intermediaries bringing the prayers of the faithful to God is very common. In Revelation 5:8 the incense in the golden bowls of the elders is the prayers of God’s faithful people.
Furthermore, I wanted this fellowship with the saints of the Church to be part of my children’s faith. I must confess that even after I had discovered the lives of the saints, it was difficult to use this treasure deeply and powerfully within my own family as long as my identity was Protestant. It was necessary for me to become Catholic to obtain the benefits that come from acting like a Catholic. And moreover, I wanted to be able to teach and to share the exploits of the saints to my congregation. Not to do so seemed irresponsible. I would occasionally use Mother Theresa or St. Maria Goretti in sermons. This would always provoke some criticism. Furthermore, in pastoral work I found yet another powerful use of the lives of the saints. When I would share a difficult pastoral problem with my wife, she could always make references to a saint recognized by the Catholic Church who had overcome that problem. Then I would have to decide if I could use that story as an inspiration. Or I could give that person a book detailing that saint’s life. Of course as a Presbyterian minister I should do no such thing! Moreover, to go further to the supernatural level of asking their prayer intercessions for the persons I was guiding was utterly unthinkable. I was not a happy father or a cheerful pastor.
At this point I found myself naturally drawn into the supernatural role of the communion of saints as we pray to them and they intercede for us. They were present to participate with us in prayer. Beyond a material or rational level, the saints provide help in time of need. This seemed to be a direct incarnation of Hebrews 12:1-2!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Would I not wish to have these righteous men intercede for those with whom I was working? I was inspired. And I had been left out. Very few of these stories about the lives of the saints had been told to me during my childhood. Moreover, we had never received their help in prayer.
Patricia was very gentle with me. Only about twice a year would she suggest that I could be so much more effective in the Catholic Church because I would have so many more pastoral tools, like the lives of the saints, available to me. Twice a year is not too often to make a gentle comment, but after all, after eighteen years, that is thirty-six interventions.
The Protestant objection to using the saints in this way is based on the desire to avoid the error of worshipping them in the place of God and to avoid praying to them instead of going directly to God. If that were so important, I thought that I should be able to find that prohibition in Scripture. But I could not find such a prohibition anywhere. It seemed strange to me to reject such an important resource without an explicit Biblical prohibition. And if there had been times of overemphasis on the saints, it seemed to me that the responsible course of action would be to work to correct the abuse rather than rejecting the resource altogether. This led to research on the related topic of “prayers for the dead.”
21. Prayers for the dead most appropriate logically and scripturally. A Protestant pastor must always deal with requests for prayer for the deceased at funerals. After all, if we can prayer for our loved ones while living, why not after they have passed away? I learned quickly that not praying such prayers was one of the distinctives on which Presbyterian practice rested. We did not do that. Only Catholics did such a foolish thing. So again I went searching in the Scriptures to see where the prohibition for such an obviously incorrect practice could be. Again I found that no such prohibition existed and that prayers for the deceased are recognized in a positive way in 2 Maccabees 12:42-46.
“And they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be blotted out… He also took up a collection …to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorable, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.”
Additionally, St. Augustine records that he prayed for his mother, Monica, after her death with many tears and intercessions (Confessions, bk. 9, chpt. 13). Additional historical study showed that the early Christian community had prayed for the dead (The Acts of Paul and Thecla, second century) and archeological work has demonstrated graffiti in the catacombs, where the earliest Christians recorded prayers for the dead. This further convinced me that such a practice was ancient, authentic and desirable. It is also logical since God is timeless, He can apply prayers at any point in history, including after a person has died. But in a Presbyterian setting I always risked criticism and rejection if I did so. In addition, I discovered that to pursue such study of the Early Church Fathers and of the history of the Church brought suspicion upon oneself in evangelical circles, for the simple reason that such study often resulted in a “softness” toward Catholic doctrine or outright conversion. I had no interest at this point in converting, but this study did raise the very fundamental issue of the Canon of Scripture.
22. The Deutero-canonical books of the Old Testament always used in the early Church. Why did Protestants reject the Deutero-canonical books of the Old Testament? I could find two reasons. The first was that St. Jerome had been aware that the Jewish scholars had refused to recognize these books as part of the Hebrew Bible, a decision taken at a Council in Jamnia in A.D. 90. But why should a Christian scholar accept Jewish authority for determining the Canon of Scripture in the Christian era? A second was that these books contained explicit references to doctrines that the Reformers wished to reject. But, these books had been used by the Christian Church from its early beginnings. Karl Keating has an incisive critique of Luther and Calvin’s inadequate attempts to come up with criteria for the canon. It was the Church itself that determined the Canon of Scripture based on what the Church considered to be the authentic record of the Apostles. I had a hard time rejecting these books and the doctrines that they contained, and the delightful story of Tobit was most helpful in marriage counseling. But one did not need the Deutero-canonical books of Scripture to be aware that Protestants were ignoring Mary.
23. Embracing the considerable role of Mary in both the Sacred Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition. Preaching from the Lectionary, it only took me until my first Christmas in the ministry to come across a passage dealing with Mary that I had never seen. It was the Magnificat. Luke 1:48 records Mary saying that “all generations will call me blessed.” It was immediately clear to me that Protestants did not participate in that Scriptural guideline. It took a long time and the help of Professor Scott Hahn to help me realize the multiple references to Mary in the Sacred Scriptures. I have slowly grown in appreciation for Mary as the Mother of God, for Mary as the Queen Mother, and in the many other roles attributed to her.
24. The Understanding of the four beasts in Daniel 7. The understanding of the prophecy of Daniel concerning the foundation of the Church at Rome only makes in a Catholic environment. See Daniel 7. The fourth beast represents the Roman Empire out of which comes the Christian Church in Rome. This is one of the explanations for the early Popes remaining in Rome to be martyred instead of fleeing.
25. Greater biblical accuracy in supporting devotional practices an more perceptive principles for studying Scripture in the Catholic Church than in Protestant churches. In summary, my resistance to the Catholic Church, based on respect for the position of the Bible had been replaced by an openness to the claims of the Catholic Church. The principle of sola scriptura which I had received from Protestantism had become by a more accurate understanding of prima scriptura. As I became aware that the Catholic Church was much more accurately biblical in its beliefs and practices than the Protestant churches which claimed to be “Bible” churches, logic then demanded that I pay more attention to other Catholic positions. By the mid-nineteen eighties I was aware that I was no longer really a Presbyterian, or a Protestant, neither in theology nor in practice. But the people were excited in my church and we were looking forward to a building program. I put myself into a holding pattern, preoccupied with the practical concerns of Church building. However, my intellectual search for truth and practical pastoral concerns continued to lead me into more reasons for being Catholic. On the home front I was trying to ignore the implications of my study, while my wife became more and more interested in Marian appearances.
26. Many other examples of where the Catholic Church is biblically more accurate than Protestants. The possibility of going to hell after making a profession of faith in Jesus (security of salvation – see Chapter 5), that the belief in purgatory while not explicitly referenced in Scripture is consistent with it (2 Macc. 12:43-46; Mt. 12:32; 1 Cor. 3:13-15; 1 Pet. 3:19; 1 Jn. 5:17; Rev. 21:27), and the role of Peter and the Papacy (many references). I discovered that throughout the centuries, Catholic faithful meditated profoundly over Scripture, often much more profoundly than busy, married Protestant divines. They reached a great depth of understanding of the entire message of Scripture which we would do well to study. So I found Catholic reflections on Scripture to be more accurate than many of my favorite Protestant authorities.
In conclusion, I found the Roman Catholic Church to have a general biblical accuracy to which I had both been ignorant an blind, making it more biblically accurate than any of the protestant denominations. In particular, I found that the Sacraments were founded upon the teachings of Jesus explicitly stated in Scripture, that Catholics had superior depth and wisdom in their study of Scripture, and that Catholics had many spiritual practices and devotions that were explicitly consistent with those same Scriptures. But there were more reasons for becoming Catholic than just the biblically related ones.
 While it is true that Luther added the adverb “only” into his translations of Romans, it should be noted that he himself indicated that it was demanded by the context and that sola, (only) had been used in the theological tradition before him. Robert Bellarmine listed eight earlier authors who used “only” in this situation. Lyonnet added two others (including St. Thomas), and Joseph Fitzmeyer adds three more (See Fitzmeyer, Romans, p.360ff). The error of most of Protantism is to deny any necessity for works even in response to the gift of grace.
 A very helpful articulation of the special role of Scripture in the Catholic Tradition is found in Prof. Scott Hahn’s article, Prima Scriptura (A.Mastroeni, ed., The Church and the Universal Catechism, The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, Franciscan University Edition, 1992, pp. 83-116).
 The best summary I have found for resolving the grace/works dilemma is in the decrees from the II Council of Orange, 529 AD, in which the struggle between Augustinian thought and semi-Pelagianism was resolved. This process of Magisterial reflection upon the issue illustrates why it is inadequate to draw only on Scripture alone or upon outstanding theologians who often were writing in the heart of theological conflict. One cannot consult Augustine’s anti-Pelagian writings alone to resolve this issue. This is also one of the reasons that the Reformation was such a tragedy. Once outside of the corrective dialogue with the Magisterium of the Church, their historically conditioned excesses could not be easily corrected by assumed the role of autonomous denominational identity.
 For a much more depth on this issue see Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, index references.
 Article 299 in the Catechism relates “being created in the image of God” to being called to a personal relationship is implied every time that “being created in the image of God” is mentioned. Article 2558 indicates that the faithful believe the faith, celebrate it, and live from it in a vital and personal relationship with God and that this relationship is prayer. That means that all of the aspects of living the Christian life are to be lived out of a personal relationship with God.
 For a fuller development of this see my paper on the sacraments in the Gospel of John.
 For the details of this rich study, see “The Development of the Papacy,” by Marcus C. Grodi. Concerning the slow development of the petrine office see also John Henry Cardinal Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, pp.148-165. Just as samples of the New Testament witness, on Peter’ commissioning see: Matt 16:13-19; 23:1-12; Lk 22:31-32; Jn 21:15-19, as well as the first sixteen chapters in Acts.
 Later when I studied the Documents of Vatican II, I was both surprised an inspired by the high position given to Scripture and its use in the Catholic Church. See chapter 6 of Dei Verbum, “Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church,” for truly inspiring statements about the very important role of Scripture in the Catholic Church. Even more surprising was to find out that even at the Council of Trent, the role of Scripture and preaching was very important. Because these affirmations were placed in the Reform Decrees rather than the Dogmatic Definitions, they tend to get lost. For example, the Council of Trent taught that the preaching of the Good News is “the first responsibility of bishops” (D.R. Sess. 5, c.2, n.9., cf. Sess. 24, can. 4.), making the language at Trent stronger than that of Vatican II. Thus my preconceived prejudice that the Council of Trent was medieval, ignorant and reactionary also has come to be corrected.
 The historical method of criticism is the traditional method of scriptural analysis generally used in the Church until the advent of the historical-critical methods of the last two centuries. A brief but excessively optimistic presentation of the historical-critical method can be found in The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, section I. A. Historically this method did not pay sufficient attention to the final form of the biblical text and to the message which it conveyed in its final form. Hence, this method often seemed to simply dissolve and destroy the text. It often meant that philosophies or ideologies foreign to the faith were imposed on the text (pp. 35ff).
 See in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #109-119. For an excellent development of this issue see the audio series by Prof. Scott Hahn, Returning to Our Senses: How to Interpret the Bible According to Catholic Teaching, by St. Joseph’s Communications. For a summary of a modern critique of the limitations an historical context of historical-critical method as it applies to the New Testament, see Dr. R. Farmer, The Gospel of Jesus, pp. 130ff.
 A good example of modern Catholic scholarship which illustrates the short-comings of the historical method by turning the method upon itself is Williams R. Farmer’s The Gospel of Jesus, chpt 11, “A Social History of Markan Primacy.”
 For a biblically based refutation of this criticism see my sheet on Catholic Apologetics, “Father.”
 See ##1852-1853 for the differentiation of sins. The Church, following Sacred Scripture, teaches that for a sin to be mortal must meet three conditions: sin whose object is grave matter, which is also committed with full knowledge and complete consent (see #1857). For the gravity of sins, see #1858; for a definition of full knowledge and complete consent, see #1859; for factors that may diminish the culpability for sins, see #1860; for the consequences of mortal sin, see #1861: for the danger of venial sin, see ##1862-1863.
 For more depth on this issue see Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, chpt. 21, “Honoring the Saints” and Barclay, Daily Study Bible, The Revelation of John, commentary on Rev. 5:8.
 Cited in Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1988) pp 192-193.
 Ibid., pp. 130-133.
 The footnotes in the New American Bible show a different interpretation of the four beasts that is less central to the role of the Roman Catholic Church. The lion represents the Babylonian empire, the bear represents the Medes and the Persians, the leopard represents the Alexandrian empire (because of the speed of conquest, the four heads would represent the four) and the last, the iron corresponds to the Roman Empire. I am struck that if the analysis of William Farmer is correct, that the Germans used historical-critical scholarship as an anti-Catholic tool to aid in the unification of Germany, then it would have been important to deny that the fourth beast was the Roman Empire.
 For additional references to these issues and many others see my pamphlet, Biblical Answers to Difficult Questions to Catholics” and especially Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism.