Monday, August 09, 2010

The One True Church and How We Come to Believe She is What She Claims to Be: Brief Comment
Chartres Cathedral: Rose Window

I wrote the following in response to a woman on the CHNI forum who is right on the verge of possibly becoming a Catholic. She is struggling with the Catholic notion of authority and Tradition (as so many of us converts and "reverts" have done).

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Bottom line is that faith is a gift of God, by His grace. The very faith to believe that God not only made a way for salvation, but also provided an authoritative Church, through which He chose to channel that salvation, and to provide guidance, is a gift. It doesn't come from our reasoning efforts. Reason can bring us up to the gates, but it can't prove that the gates and what lie behind them are what they are, or compel us to walk through them and enter in.

What reason and facts and evidence can do is to confirm over and over that the Catholic Church is right. When that happens so many times, then it becomes easier (by the weight of cumulative evidence) to accept in faith that she is always right when she claims something dogmatically or infallibly. We must accept that we don't and can't understand everything, and believe it because of what we do understand. No one can ever figure out every jot and tittle. That just ain't in the cards. For one thing, no one has the time to do so, even if they truly desired to.

The problem is that many of us had to unlearn all of the skepticism about the true Church that is inherent in Protestantism: the belief-system that denies that there is any such thing as an infallible church, and allows the individual -- in the final analysis -- to stand and judge every claimant (a la Martin Luther: "Here I stand," etc.).

But that itself is assuredly not a biblical view. So it is a matter of agreeing with biblical revelation that there is indeed such a thing as an authoritative Church, set up by God (and initiated by Jesus' commission to St. Peter in Matthew 16) and then judging (again, led by grace and the Holy Spirit, the Helper) whether the Catholic claims are feasible and plausible. With time, the journey all of us have taken, that brought us to Holy Mother Church, has led us to accept this very thing, in faith, by God's grace.

My own greatest struggle was with the notion of infallibility, so I understand that objection inside and out, believe me (I was a Protestant apologist, too, after all, for nine years before my conversion). I thought it was almost self-evidently ridiculous and historically ludicrous. But I kept studying and talking to Catholic friends (and reading very "dangerous" books like Cardial Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine or Karl Adam's The Spirit of Catholicism or G. K. Chesterton's The Catholic Church and Conversion and Orthodoxy) [all available online for free; just follow my links above] and eventually I saw that none of the alternatives could fly at all, and I yielded myself.

I've only become more and more assured of this truth, in now nearly 20 years of defending it in my work. The more I learn, the more my faith is strengthened, and this is one of the joys of apologetics: I get some benefit and "perks", too, in trying to explain Catholic teaching and belief. I wouldn't trade my life and profession for anything.


Catholic Teuchtar said...

I remember reading a request on a catholic forum from an apologist looking for spiritual help who was all "apologised out" was how he put it.

But I agree. I find my faith is invogorated when I indulge in apologetics. I need to do it more often.

Dave Armstrong said...

One can definitely get burned out; no question. I try to avoid that by:

1) Writing about what interests me at any given time, to the extent that I am able to do so and still make a living. Hence my current science and Christianity project.

2) Avoiding arguing with several belief-systems whose proponents are too often exasperating and who show little openness to being corrected, when it comes to orthodox Catholicism, or to learn anything at all.

3) Always realizing that I can't convince anyone of the truths of Christianity or Catholicism on my own. That is ultimately God's job, and by grace. I can only show rationality, feasibility, plausibility, and remove irrational or non-factual objections.

4) Knowing that I am always writing to a larger audience, and not just one particular debate partner.

#1 takes care of boredom, and #2, #3, and #4, frustration and anger, and that helps to avoid burnout, which I have managed to do for coming up to 20 years now, by the grace of God.

Almost all the time, I absolutely love what I do.

Burnout can also come from having an inadequate grounding in the faith before setting out to defend it. That happens a lot. Or by being insufficiently converted in the first place, or by grounding faith excessively in reason, to the exclusion of supernatural grace and faith.