I have been a Protestant my entire life, yet I acknowledge what R.R. Reno described as "the insanity of [the] slide into self-guidance." (Catholic Matters, Richard John Neuhaus, p. 65). I also whole-heartedly agree with Neuhaus himself when he says, "The allegedly autonomous self who acknowledges no authority but himself is abjectly captive to the authority of the Enlightenment rationality that finally collapses into incoherence." He adds, "Confronted by such truth claims, we necessarily ask, 'Sez who?' By what authority, by whose authority, should I credit such claims to be true?" (ibid., p. 70)First, I'd like to emphasize that the reason this question is being shared around is not just to ask a couple of people; anyone who would like to answer these questions is strongly encouraged to do so in the comment boxes (or on your own blog, if you have one).
And so I ask: If you are Protestant, why are you Protestant and why are you not Catholic or Orthodox? If you are Catholic, why are you Catholic and not Protestant or Orthodox? If you are Orthodox, why are you Orthodox and not Protestant or Catholic?
Note that whatever question applies to you is actually in two parts, asking a positive affirmation of why you are what you are and an answer of why you are not what you are not.
Thanks in advance to all who search deeply and share good, honest thoughts.
For me, the question is: Why are you Catholic and not Protestant or Orthodox?
The simplest way for me to begin is t0 say that I am Catholic because I believe that Christ intended to found a specific Church, that the Church He founded still exists, and that His Church is the Catholic Church. But I know that's not the whole story.
I began my life as a Catholic quite early. I was born into and baptized into a Catholic family, was raised Catholic, and have strong cultural roots to the Catholic faith. I can't deny that those roots have been somewhat weakened by modernity and especially by the rapid-fire changes of Vatican II; I was born in 1968, three years after the Council closed, but the post-Conciliar changes were just beginning to make their way into parish life during my childhood, and the period of loosey-goosey, anything goes Catholicism was at its heyday in my youth.
My parents, though, were traditional even before there were "traditionalists." They would clarify and explain things that our teachers in the Catholic schools were leaving out, and would challenge some of the things going on at the parish. Eventually they realized they were not alone, and the heady period of weekly Wanderer readership (don't laugh--when I was eighteen my life's ambition was to write for The Wanderer) and the wild adventure into that thing called homeschooling came to pass in our family.
Both the presence of orthodox Catholic media in our home and the pre-Vatican II religion texts that came with our homeschooling curricula had a huge impact on me. I was in high school, rebelling without realizing it against the liberal feminist pacifist pro-Democrat hegemony of my Catholic school teachers at the all-girls' Catholic high school I'd been attending; the (to me at the time) meaty, substantive articles in this exciting Catholic newspaper and the detailed and breathtakingly rational descriptions of what Catholics believed and why we believed it in my textbooks was a positive relief compared to the squishy feel-goodism masquerading as Catholicism I'd been exposed to in the schools most of my life.
The more I learned about who and what the Church claimed to be, and Who She saw as Her founder, the more certain incidents in my past made sense to me. As a young child, I'd asked my mother if Protestants all each believed that their church was the "true" one; repeating this question a few years later to a Protestant friend I'd been shocked to hear her say that her church taught that it didn't matter. All Christian churches (well, possibly except Catholics; this was the South, after all) were "true" churches, because all sought to follow the spirit of Christ. True, they had different founders, but...The idea of different founders didn't make sense to me, but the Protestant notion of the Eucharist made less sense. If Christ had really meant His Body and Blood to be merely symbolic, as she claimed, what about that Gospel reading where many of His followers left in disgust when He said they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood? Couldn't He simply have explained the symbolism instead of letting them leave over a misunderstanding? I wouldn't have appreciated, then, the full richness of that section of the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel, but it, and dozens of other Eucharistic passages in the Scriptures, remain even today one of my reasons for being a Catholic instead of a Protestant; I think the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist is the truly Scriptural one, and the Eucharist is, moreover, so central to my life as a follower of Christ that I couldn't imagine life apart from His Presence in this mystery.
Getting back to that notion of "founders--" years later when my sister and I were working after college, she came to me asking to borrow my copy of the World Almanac. I wondered why, and she said a Protestant co-worker had asked her who founded her Church. "Jesus," my sister had said.
"Oh, sure, spiritually, but who was the real founder?" a woman persisted.
My sister went a few rounds explaining that unless you wanted to say, "St. Peter," (which was somewhat inaccurate) you could only say, "Jesus." There was no particular merely human founder of the Catholic Church.
Her co-worker was still puzzled, which was why my sister wanted to borrow the almanac. Today, of course, such sources go out of their way to say, "Jesus, but really Peter, but really some other bishops in the 300s, but really..." as they go out of their way to try to twist the simple truth into something unrecognizable. But my 1980s-era secular World Almanac and Book of Facts engaged in no such sophistry; beside "founder" next to "Catholic Church" the chart simply read, "Jesus Christ." In the almanac, remember--not in a religious source book. My sister's co-worker was, if I recall, impressed--and intrigued.
To me, though, then and now, the idea is a simple one. Christ clearly meant to start a Church. He clearly meant to leave somebody in charge of it, and He clearly meant something very particular with all that "Do this in remembrance of Me," bit emphasized in the Gospels. From the very beginning of the Church, though, some people thought they ought to re-do His teachings a bit. In the earliest years these groups existed in open heresy; later, they broke away convinced that some new understanding compelled them to "go back" to a purer, simpler time, without all that authority and ritual and so forth. But in my admittedly simplistic view of things, these new churches were started because they had one or more of these three ideas:
- Christ didn't actually mean to start a physical Church, but only a spiritual one;
- Christ meant to start a physical Church, but He didn't mean to create a hierarchy who would be "in charge" and teach with authority; or
- Christ did mean to start a Church, but He didn't mean anything about that Eucharist idea except that it would be a nice symbol, and thus there was no need for an ordained priesthood or the inherently sacrificial character of the Catholic Mass.
Now, all of this answers the why Catholic; why Catholic and not Protestant parts of the question. The "why not Orthodox" question is rather complex, because I do believe as the Church does that the Orthodox are also a real Church. They have apostolic succession and valid sacraments. But what they don't have is the Pope, and again, I find the arguments against papal authority unconvincing.
It's probably far beyond the scope of this post to say fully why that is, except for me to say that I do think Christ intended for Peter to have a special role, above and beyond his companions. Granted, James and John were also often singled out in the Gospels, or rather, not "singled" but along with Peter called to witness some of Our Lord's earthly life that no one else saw firsthand. But it is only Peter who receives the keys; it is only Peter who first denies Christ, and then is forgiven, told "Feed my lambs" and "feed my sheep." Surely it would have made more sense for Our Lord to have said something like this to St. John, who alone of the apostles did not abandon Him at the foot of the Cross, right? But it is Peter who is told these things, and it is Peter who goes from hiding in the upper room, to fearlessly leading the other apostles in Acts, after the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon them all.
I do hope for Catholic and Orthodox reunification, and I also hope it won't be long in coming. But of the two Churches, I believe I'm in the one that most fully reflects the scriptural image of the Church Christ intended to found, and did found; and being a member of that Church is a blessing beyond anything I deserve.
Lengthy as this is, it is bound to be incomplete; a question like this one could be answered well in a book, not in a blog post. But I'll stop here, to give others the chance to weigh in--I do hope that you will!