Aside from all the sex, there was one teensy argument that I could never wiggle around. Authority. See, as a Protestant I believed that God gave us the Bible and that's all we had to know Him and to know how to live a life of faith. But a few things didn't make sense once I started exploring. And I think God gave us brains for a reason. And I think faith should make sense.
Assuming I'm thinking like a Protestant, let's look at the timeline- Jesus comes and he imparts on his apostles a divine authority (including the power to forgive sins, remember that lil bit of heresy? Jkjk!). He then ascends and the apostles are left to sort it out and missionize the world. And I started to wonder, if He knew that all the church would have, ever, was Scripture, why didn't they all sit down and write? In fact, only 3 or 4 out of the original 12 wrote something that ended up in the Canon of Scripture. Did you know that? Why didn't they write down every thing Christ said? Why did St. Paul say things like "there is more I want to say, but I'll wait until I see you in person." (???!) Why didn't they let other small-time guys plant the churches? Why weren't they pouring out countless hours getting every detail just right?? The truth is, they didn't. In fact, the epistles aren't even written for anyone other than the people they were directed to (Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, etc.) it just so happened they were God breathed and all and so they still matter. It's pretty obvious the emphasis then wasn't on Scripture, which is especially not a Protestant way of thinking. As a non-Catholic, the way early Christianity went down started to not make sense to me. And I think faith should make sense.
And so, the apostles die and all apostolic succession dies with them. Right? And then, for over 500 years, the Christian faithful have... nothing? A few letters in circulation? But no authoritative figure, no leadership. But wait! They did have something. History and all the Catholics tell us they had popes, and bishops, and priests and even the mass. And until a council of Catholic bishops discerned which books and letters belonged in the canon, they didn't even have a Bible. Even then, there was no printing press or Gideon's sticking Bibles in hotel drawers. I mean, we all know this stuff. It comes together quickly when you just start thinking. There was no ability for the Bible to even exist in the hands of the people for a thousand more years. And the more I thought, the more I realized if this was the way God had wanted his Church to grow and to know Him, it really, really didn't make sense. And neither did He.
And so I questioned and I wrestled with this concept. Who is God? A loving Father? If I assumed the Catholic position, I could see that loving Father. I could see that the presence of bishops and priests who had the authority of the apostles, teaching and growing communities of believers by way of sacred tradition and the mass and the sacraments, keeping the Body unified in one common faith... I could see how that would fit who I knew God to be. But if there wasn't all that. If there were only men teaching with zero authority from above, with far away letters and gospels that most would never, ever see with their own eyes. Waiting and waiting and waiting on the true authoritative presence of the written word to descend on the faithful to teach them and to connect them to Christ. If that were true, what then did that say of God? Loving Father? Good Shepherd? Abandoner?
I finally was hit with the ultimate straw breaks back idea. In those beautiful, holy books, there is no list. Right? There is no list that says: "Here is a list of all the books that should be here if you want to trust this is the real thing. Love, the Paraclete." I mean, there were countless other letters in circulation at the time. If only Scripture is inspired by God, if there is no authority outside of it, then where in it do we learn that what's there is what should be there? How do we know?
And then I learned this pesky little historical fact. The Catholic Church gave me my Bible. Councils of Catholic bishops met, prayed, deliberated, and were lead by the Holy Spirit to discern and affirm which books truly belonged in the New Testament Canon of Scripture, in the 4th and 5th centuries. That's just regular old history. There was no list. No manual. They decided. The Catholic Church by way of a divine authority imparted by God were able to discern which books belonged and which ones didn't. They finalized the Biblical Canon, they had the authority necessary to do it, and Protestant faithful has to trust them on this. I realized then that my entire faith was hanging by a thread held by the Catholic Church. They gave me the only thing I knew to be authoritative and true, the only way to Jesus. I had to go through Rome no matter what.
I had three options: I either must reject the Bible as possible heresy or remain a Protestant, accept that these councils actually happened (they did) and, therefore, simultaneously, put zero faith in Catholicism and also trust them for everything or become a Catholic.
With this new
problem understanding, the basic timeline suddenly looked to me like this: Jesus lives, dies, rises and Christianity begins, Jesus ascends, the apostles work with the authority of Christ himself, but then they die. And then the guys who were directly in line after them all became Catholic (which, heresy. Some how they all managed to become heretics within two degrees of separation from Jesus himself). And this heretical church managed to be the CHURCH until Martin Luther came along and shook things up 1500 years later. They also managed to successfully and faithfully compile the true Canon of Scripture, in which my entire faith in founded.
And even still, there I was, in Simi Valley, CA, in a church that looked nothing like the church that Martin Luther himself founded. If he got it right shouldn't my faith at least look like his?? We didn't baptize infants, we didn't believe the body and blood of Jesus was literally present in communion elements. If fact, we didn't even think that theology was right. So, if I was right- did that mean that no one had gotten it right until now? 2000 years after Christ's ascension? Did Rick Warren finally get it right? Rob Bell? Mark Driscoll?
It didn't make sense.
This wasnt the God I knew. The loving, tender Father who wants us to know Him. This was complicated and confusing. How could anyone get to Him if this is how the Church was supposed to work? How could it work at all?
And beyond all that, since the reformation, when Protestant theologians rejected the Church as authoritative; since the Bible alone became the only authority for the faithful, establishing theology and belief and practice.... Christianity has been splintering and fracturing faster than time is ticking. The reformers themselves couldn't agree. Does this speak to you of who you imagine God to be? Is it working?
I say no. I say there is more. That we need more. We need the Bride, we need what the apostles gave us, and that they are still giving us by means of apostolic succession. See, as a Catholic, I believe that that special power Jesus gave the apostles did not die with them. It was handed down. It was handed down to keep the Church one. Jesus wanted that. Do you remember?
"That they may all be one, as Thou, Father, in me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me." John 17:21
And to preserve that unity He gave his Church a leader. Remember the authority Jesus gave to St. Peter? You know the keys to the kingdom of God and all, we believe that got handed down, too. Exactly 265 times.
I looked back at the Early Church and everything I saw was Catholic. Maybe this idea is something you've never heard of before. I hadn't either. Here are a few quotes that are pretty incredible and/or shocking depending on what side of the fence you find yourself on in this moment.
"You must follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let know one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the Bishop, or by whom he appoints. Wherever the Bishop appears, let the people be there, just as wherever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." St Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans AD 107
"The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the Tradition is one and the same." St Irenaeus, Against Heresies AD 190
On Baptismal rejeneration and the Eucharist:
"We called this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teachings to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for rejeneration, and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus." St Justin Martyr, a First Apology AD 151
On apostolic succession, tradition, and the one, true Church:
"If it is possible, then, for every Church, who may wish to know the truth, the contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted a bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times... But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the Churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that Church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition." St Irenaeus, Against Heresies AD 190
On the Papacy and unity:
"The Lord says to Peter: 'I say to you,' He says, 'that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church'... Upon him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is one Church and one chair. So, too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" St Cyprian of Carthage, The Unity of the Catholic Church, AD 251
Hi. Are you still with me? Oh, good.
I wasn't a hard sell. Once I was convicted that the Catholic Church was actually the church that Jesus established on earth, I could accept it all. Mary, the saints, the pope... All of it. Just in the way I accepted the authority of the Bible even when I didn't totally understand all of it because it was God's Word. I began to trust tradition and papal authority the same way, as God's Word. And just like that, I was in. Baptizing my babies an alla dat.
Did you read this whole thing? I bet you have more questions. If you live nearby, come over and let's talk in person over some food and wine (or strawberitas). If you live far away, I'm happy to answer you as much as I can (with actually life happening and husband and kids and all.)
Here are some amazing resources, if you're interested:
Kendra wrote a post with lots of resources.
Scott Hahn has a few books. (Amazingly readable, subject oriented books plus my dad's friend!)
So does Brant Pitre. (Brilliant expert on Judiasm and the Church)
Watch this from Father Barron.
More on the Early Church Fathers.