A Protestant Historian Discovers the Catholic Church

Dec 17th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Dr. David Anders

Called to Communion’s own Dr. David Anders recalls some highlights of his journey into the Catholic Church in this article which appears in a recent ‘Coming Home Network’ newsletter.

Dr. Anders received his Ph.D. from The University of Iowa in 2002, in Reformation History and Historical Theology, having written his dissertation on John Calvin.

So how did a Reformed church historian whose emphasis of study was Reformation history find his way into the Catholic Church?

Here are some highlights:

I began my Ph.D. studies in September of 1995. I took courses in early, medieval, and Reformation Church history. I read the Church Fathers, the scholastic theologians, and the Protestant Reformers. At each stage, I tried to relate later theologians to earlier ones, and all of them to the Scriptures. I had a goal of justifying the Reformation and this meant, above all, investigating the doctrine of justification by faith alone[…]

My first difficulty arose when I began to grasp what Augustine really taught about salvation. Briefly put, Augustine rejected “faith alone.” It is true that he had a high regard for faith and grace, but he saw these mainly as the source of our good works. Augustine taught that we literally “merit” eternal life when our lives are transformed by grace. This is quite different from the Protestant point of view[…]

No matter where I looked, on whatever continent, in whatever century, the Fathers agreed: salvation comes through the transformation of the moral life and not by faith alone. They also taught that this transformation begins and is nourished in the sacraments, and not through some individual conversion experience[…]

By the time I finished my Ph.D., I had completely revised my understanding of the Catholic Church. I saw that her sacramental doctrine, her view of salvation, her veneration of Mary and the saints, and her claims to authority were all grounded in Scripture, in the oldest traditions, and in the plain teaching of Christ and the apostles. I also realized that Protestantism was a confused mass of inconsistencies and tortured logic. Not only was Protestant doctrine untrue, but it bred contention, and could not even remain unchanged. The more I studied, the more I realized that my evangelical heritage had moved far not only from ancient Christianity, but even from the teaching of her own Protestant founders.

I invite you to visit the link to the article to find out more and share your thoughts.

14 comments
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  1. Very beautifully put Dr. Anders. Good job.

  2. @David Anders

    “By the time I finished my Ph.D., I had completely revised my understanding of the Catholic Church. I saw that her sacramental doctrine, her view of salvation, her veneration of Mary and the saints, and her claims to authority were all grounded in Scripture, in the oldest traditions, and in the plain teaching of Christ and the apostles.”

    Since all those points could equally be said about the EO Churches, I wonder whether you considered that option before deciding to revert to the RC Church.

    Note that I am RC. The point is that, since I share your perception that ” Protestantism was a confused mass of inconsistencies and tortured logic”, I have found that addressing the EO-RC differences is way more interesting and effort-deserving, as you can verify in my blog.

  3. Johannes,

    I can’t speak for Dr. Anders on that point but I believe we do intend to address those differences more in the future. However, as Called to Communion is more about the “Reformation Meeting Rome” we are more focused on that.

  4. Sean, I know. I was interested in knowing just whether Dr Anders had himself pondered the issue in his journey.

  5. I have to take caution with the interpretation of Augustine’s view on work’s righteousness, which is as he espoused above.
    I point to Titus3:1-6 where it states: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (I put in the full context, because text without context is pretext which is very rampant in Christendom today).
    Can you help me understand your view of this passage?
    Thanks!
    Jason

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  7. Dr. Anders is an awesome speaker. He is quickly becoming one of my most admired Catholic apologists, bar none. So lucid! Keep up the great work, Dr. Anders!

  8. Jason D,
    I believe that the conflict here in Titus might be that no works of our own righteousness prior to the washing in the laver of regeneration by the Holy Spirit count. That is to say that no works prior to Baptism really merit any reward because we do not have charity in our hearts for God. St. Paul means that we are regenerated in this laver and given the hope of eternal life, which is true, anybody who would die after baptism without committing any sins would be given eternal life. Catholicism has no conflict with this. However what St. Augustine writes is that because of this regeneration we follow the Lord entirely by a form of law-keeping, that is illustrated more sharply perhaps by St. Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians: 2 Cor 3:3 “Being manifested, that you are the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, and written: not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God: not in tables of stone but in the fleshly tables of the heart.” Living in the Spirit means that we are obedient to God in everything and do not transgress the commandments because they still apply to us, but now we have them written in our hearts by love and to follow the commandments is delightful. The idea is that the Letter killed because it was outside of man and man followed it by fear, thus he could never fulfill the law because he did not have grace to assist him. Now however the Spirit gives life and we are able to fulfill our duties to God filled with love, (Romans 3:31, “Do we then destroy the law through faith? God forbid! But we establish the law.”). To affirm this that’s why Christ says in the Gospel of John, If you love Me follow my commandments (cf John 15:10), and further St. John writes to us that by the Spirit the commandments become delightful and light (John 15:1-5, “1 Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God. And every one that loves him who begot, loves him also who is born of him. 2 In this we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the charity of God: That we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not heavy. 4 For whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory which overcomes the world: Our faith. 5 Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”) (sorry I don’t know how to block quote). St. John writes that for whoever is born of God and believes in Christ is loved by God as a child of God. By this we are made to love God and keep His commandments. The charity or love of God then is that we keep His commandments which are not heavy for those born again of God. This is the victory Christ won over for us: to live the holy life in total subjection to God. I know the letters of St. Paul are difficult but perhaps this helps. Sorry for the length of my paragraph. I know the guys on here can totally tackle this question better than I. Forgive me if I’ve mispoken, I’ve tried to learn what I can from following this site for a year or so, hope I’ve spoken within orthoodxy.

  9. Steven,

    I think you’ve done a good job of identifying where the issue really lies. There is a category confusion at work. Protestants, particularly the modern evangelical variety that doesn’t care much for doctrinal formulations, tend to collapse all of the New Testament’s language about salvation into “that thing that means I go to heaven when I die instead of hell.” But salvation is about much more than avoiding Hell. Salvation is becoming united with God, participating in his nature and having his image restored in us, living in communion with Him and the rest of creation. Salvation is about forgiveness, yes, but forgiveness is not an end in itself. It removes the obstacle to all of those other things. And once we’re forgiven, we still have a lot of cleaning up to do so that we can more fully enter into those other aspects of salvation. So, as you’ve pointed out, Titus is not at odds with Augustine because Augustine is talking about the meriting of eternal life, i.e. the end of the road where the work that God began at us in our initial justification is consummated, and in Titus Paul is talking about that instance where we became God’s children. In another place he describes it as being “transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the love of His son.” Here he describes it as being made heirs. The point Augustine makes, which is the point Christian theology has always made and that seems to some Evangelicals like, to use Jason’s words, “works’ righteousness,” is that we can either receive that gift of God properly and respond to God with a life of penitence and charity, which merits eternal life, or we can forfeit that gift. Thus Paul talks about making our calling and election secure, and Peter talks about those who, after being enlightened, went back to the world. Augustine uses the language of operative and cooperative grace to express this truth, the former being completely apart from us and what brings us into sonship, the latter being that with which we cooperate after our fallen wills have been healed, but the meaning should be clear enough without the jargon. The picture that I turn to again and again when explaining it to Protestants is Jesus’ parable of the talents, in which all of the servants are freely given talents before the master goes away, but when the master returns, only those who made an increase on their talents are rewarded. The giving of the talents to all the servants freely could be explicated by a passage like the one from Titus, quoted above by Jason, and the grateful life of charity and penitence that we live in response to that gift can be described with Paul’s words in Philippians as daily working out our salvation with fear in trembling, but not on our own, for He is already working in us.

  10. Johannes,

    Of course, I had to consider the EO. There are a number of reasons I ultimately came to believe the rcc had the stronger claim to apostolicity. These include:
    1) the Biblical/dominical foundation of the Petrine Office
    2) Eastern veneration of/communion with Pre-schism Popes who made clear claims to universal jurisdiction. (This would make absolutely no sense if universal jurisdiction were truly heretical.)
    3) the doctrine of universal jurisdiction found in Eastern Fathers.
    4) Practical impossibility of EO ecclesiology (how to decide between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy, for example.)
    5) The historical track record of the Papacy in maintaining, interpreting, and proclaiming the deposit of faith, especially on moral issues like slavery, the primacy of conscience, free-consent in matrimony, human sexuality, and the freedom of the Church from secular domination.
    6) The authentic development of soteriology and sacramental theology within Latin Rite Christianity
    7) St. Augustine, St. Thomas, St. Francis, St. Catherine of Siena, and Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newmen
    8) the admittedly personal and subjective fact of my own Western, Latin heritage.

  11. Dr. Anders: No matter where I looked, on whatever continent, in whatever century, the Fathers agreed: salvation comes through the transformation of the moral life and not by faith alone.

    This truth is often lost on Protestant exegetes when they tackle Paul’s letter to the Romans. Ironically, Paul himself explicitly declares this truth in his letter to the Romans:

    There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

    All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

    For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. Romans 2:9-16

    Paul writes, “glory and honor and peace for every one who does good” , not, “glory and honor and peace for everyone who merely believes ” … “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

  12. I’d like to second the idea of doing an article on why Roman Catholicism is a better choice than Eastern Orthodoxy. I’m actually in the process of trying to figure that issue out for myself. Hope you guys get an article up on here about that soon.

  13. I think the Orthodox vs. Catholic question should almost only arise as a concrete response to one’s path; the point…

    8) the admittedly personal and subjective fact of my own Western, Latin heritage.

    …is actually one that would bear out exploration and I’m sure we would all benefit from examining our own heritage in this sense.

    Orthodox and Catholic experience is so similar that it’s hardly a question – if you’re in contact with an Orthodox community the default option should be to stay with them.

  14. Hi Jonathan,
    I’ve written about the complexities surrounding Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism on Called to Communion here:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/03/two-rights-declare-a-wrong-on-appeals-to-orthodoxy/

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/08/i-love-the-orthodox-too-much-to-be-orthodox-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-atomic-bomb-of-holy-orders/

    Please note that the Catholic Church acknowledges that Orthodox Churches possess the same sacraments as Catholics, which can lead some to ask the question of if those sacraments are both truly the Body of Christ, should our division persist? May God end that division so that that difficult decision that you face one day does not even enter into the equation.

    In Christ,
    J. Andrew

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