Swimming the Tiber, part 1
I have recently converted to the Roman Catholic Church. My family and I are in the latter stages of coming into full communion with the Church. It’s been quite a journey for me personally. I say this because I recently had a friend who is Protestant, but also exploring the claims of the Catholic Church, encourage me to write about this and so I shall.
There were lots of things that compelled me to “swim the Tiber” and I’m not really sure where to start. I have spoken before and often about my journey into what I called the historic Church. I was raised Protestant, graduated from a Protestant seminary, was ordained in the Protestant tradition and even pastored a Protestant church. The last two to three years of my pastoral ministry, things began to change for me. I discovered something that was a bit jarring for me. I discovered that there were Christians before Martin Luther and after the Apostles.
I know, shocking, right?
I say this with, of course, a touch of sarcasm. I say it sarcastically because, growing up the way I did and being educated by the people I was educated by, one would have thought that Christianity had somehow been lost after St. John the Apostle died and Martin Luther nailed up his famous 95 Theses. Now, in fairness, not all Protestants think that there were no Christians between St. John and Luther…but most of them act like it. The attitude seems to be one of “Well, Christianity kinda got lost during all those dark years and then Luther came along and read the Bible and voila!” Again, I know I’m using caricature, but you get the point.
What happened, for me, was that I began to go back. I was reading Scripture and preparing sermons. Anyone who preaches regularly will know exactly what I mean when I say that I was wrestling with some of these texts. There are some things in Holy Scripture that are difficult to understand. So, I did what I was trained to do; I consulted commentaries. One day I realized that almost all the commentaries I had consulted were written within the last 100 years and all were written by Protestants. So I did something dangerous. I decided that I wanted to know what the earliest Christians thought about what Holy Scripture said.
Like, when Jesus, at the Last Supper, said, “This is My body…This is My blood..” What did He mean by that exactly and how did the earliest Christians view those statements? So I began to read and consult with the earliest Christian writings I could get my hands on.
You guessed it…the Church Fathers.
Some of this I’ve said before but, the point is worth re-stating. As I read the earliest Christian writers, thinkers, theologians, pastors etc, I was astounded. They were Catholic. For example (my brother and I talked a bit about this last weekend), did you know that you could not find a Christian for the first 1500 years or so of the Church that did not believe in baptismal regeneration? Let me say that a little more clearly. Baptismal regeneration was believed by all orthodox Christians for the first 1500 years of the Church.
Sure, there were people who didn’t believe that, but those people were considered to be heretical. For my Protestant friends, read that again. Baptismal regeneration was believed by all orthodox Christians for the first 1500 years of the Church. To say that I was shocked when I discovered this is a huge understatement. This flew in the face of everything I had been taught about baptism as a Protestant.
Another example for you. The unanimous belief of all orthodox Christians before the Protestant “Reformation” was in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. All orthodox Christians believed that Jesus was present body, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. Those who did not believe that were considered heretical. I can’t even begin to describe to you how much this shook me.
I wondered, ‘What else was I taught that doesn’t align with traditional Christianity?’
You must understand. I was, and am, wanting to align myself with and practice the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” How can I claim to be Christian if I am not practicing the faith once for all delivered to the saints? How can I claim to be Christian if I don’t believe the faith once for all delivered to the saints?
We cannot claim that we are practicing the faith once for all delivered to the saints if we don’t follow the practice of the faith once for all delivered to the saints and we cannot claim that we believe the faith once for all delivered to the saints if we don’t believe what Christians have always believed.
I found myself in a really awkward position. Indeed, I found that I could not claim to be a Christian if I did not do and believe what Christians have always done and believed. As we progress, I will lay out my personal journey back to Mother Church.
I pray that this journey will be as wonderful for you as it has been for me.
Mark D Cannon
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