Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ugh...God help me. (Catholic v. Protestant)... again

"But since it would take too long to set out here the successions of all the churches, we shall turn to that great, ancient and universally known church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul, and we shall show that the tradition it has received of the apostles and the faith that it preaches to men has come down to our time through the regular succession of its bishops; and thus we shall confute all those who, in whatever way, whether by self-complacency, vainglory, blindness or error, enter into unauthorized assemblies. For it is with this Roman church, by reason of its more powerful pre-eminence that every other church, that is to say all the faithful everywhere, ought to agree, inasmuch as in this church the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those who come from everywhere." St. Irenaeus ("Against All Heresies," c. 180 A.D.)

"there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas (Peter)’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" - St. Paul (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, c.60 AD)

"If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins... let him be anathema" - (Catholic Council of Trent c. 1550 AD)

"it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’, and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’ For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." - St. Paul? Barnabas? Priscilla? (Hebrews 10:10-14 (c. 95 AD)

I have spent all of my spare time and energy in this Catholic-Protestant debate, I've lost sleep and friends and a possible future career. I am so tired. This is just a sample of what I deal with. I've discovered something strange. No matter how hard I try to read Church History, it is overwhelmingly 'Catholic', it supports the papacy and the historic episcopate (bishops), etc. BUT, No matter how hard I try to read Catholicism into the Scriptures, I find they are overwhelmingly Lutheran/Protestant.

So I'm left with this horrific situation, either turn my back on all of Church History and Sacred Tradition, including those which chose the canon of scripture, OR, to turn my back on the Sacred Word of God, eternal immutable, inspired and authoritative. The problem is that both groups claim they can read both scripture and tradition with a clear conscience, well I can't. I can't read the Council of Nicea and not be Catholic, and I can't read Romans and not be Protestant.

The other problem is that both Tradition and Scripture hold Anathemas for those who reject them. Both claiming to be from God. So St. Paul writes in Galatians 1:8 that if anyone believes a different gospel than the one he taught, they are damned, and St. Irenaeus writes if anyone divides the church or is out of communion with Rome, they are anathema.

Now Protestants say obviously the church screwed up and was led into heresy, and Catholics say obviously my interpretation of scripture is wrong. I've tried so hard to read the New Testament as a Catholic, but short of removing Romans, Galatians, Corinthians and Hebrews, I could not do it. Luther - no matter how late he came in church history - I believe was correct in his interpretation of imputed righteousness and sola fide. Catholics will laugh and say 'so the gospel itself, the central message of the church was unknown to it for nearly 16 centuries?!', whilst Protestants must embarrassingly say 'yes'. Catholics must embarrassingly say that even though the scriptures clearly show this, they are wrong and that really Scripture is only a part of Tradition and can't be used against it.

And so my soul is looking like Ireland as it always is.

It is also two different conceptions of God. In Lutheranism/Anglicanism God has peace with humanity, his wrath has been satisfied, he loves everyone, and if they merely believe, they will be saved and immediately after death be in the presence of God. In Catholicism God is like 'Two-Face' in Batman, if you commit a mortal sin the gun is to your head, but if you go through the proper cleansing ritual, then suddenly he loves you again. And even if you do everything right your whole life, you still get burned (purgatory). In Luther salvation is the gift of God, in Trent it is the temporary chance of God.

Yesterday I watched Rob Bell's "The Gods Aren't Angry", and it was really good. But it was the epitome of Luther, he argues well that if this idea -of God only loving us because we offer him something - is true, then there's no more point to Christianity than Judaism or Paganism for that matter, just another group of humans, trying to appease the angry gods. So does God love me? or does he burn with righteous anger towards me because I am a heretic who actively divides his bride the church, with mortal sins on my soul which will earn me eternal damnation?....ugh, I'm so tired of this.


  1. Embracing Protestantism or Anglicanism is not a rejection of Church history. I'm a Protestant and a Historical Theology major. There are a couple of books that might help you. One is Alister McGrath's Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. He's brutally fair, basically saying neither Catholic or Protestant is 100% Augustinian. Sola Fide is new, and so, if legit, must be seen as doctrinal development from principles already in the church’s tradition. McGrath points out the problem is distinctly Western (often the Eastern Orthodox wonder what the whole debate is about) because the novelty of Indulgences in the West. With something that so blatently stated you can buy your salvation, the doctrines of grace needed to be formulated more clearly to discover whether Indulgences were legit or heretical. The Eastern Orthodox have not tried to sell salvation in the East, and hence have not asked the same questions. All doctrinal development is merely asking new questions of the faith.

    Another good book is Jaroslav Pelikan’s “The Christian Tradition.” Pelikan wrote it as a Lutheran and always saw Roman Catholicism as having too many novel additions (Papacy, medieval conceptions of grace, etc) but thought the Lutheran Church in America became too detached from tradition and eventually became Eastern Orthodox. The Eastern conception of tradition is also much different than the Roman, more along the lines of a classical Anglican or High Church Reformed view that tradition is a lens for looking at Scripture, not above Scripture or Scripture as a subset of Tradition.

  2. The circumstances for Martin Luther's separation were because he was a very mentally ill man. You can't read the New Testament as Martin Luther without removing the non Paulian letters. Oh wait! Luther did that!