National Catholic Register


A reader wants to know…

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 1/14/11 at 2:00 AM


Quick question, from a fellow Catholic (only needing a short, short answer, I think… like even just “yes” or “no”, if sufficient):
Do you push the view that, in order to follow Protestantism, you have to accept that its core differentiating beliefs were nowhere to be practiced in the entire history of the Earth, until the 15th century? (when a MAN brought them about, for the first time) other words, pushing the question: “Why would God allow all Christianity to be misled for 1,500 years, then finally introduce the “truth” in some “new beliefs package”?” As I understand it, even the Jews never thought you needed to believe in God to get to Heaven, and they certainly allowed non-written tradition (ie, they didn’t follow anything like Sola Scriptura, if I’m not mistaken))...

Or does that not entirely make sense? (or maybe Protestants still just present some reasoning against all that (quite obviously)).

I’m mostly just curious if that argument is ever used, or if it’s mistaken, etc…

I think Protestantism is way too complex a phenomenon to offer such simplistic diagnoses as a sort of one size fits all dismissal.  There are, to be sure, aspects of the various Protestantisms that are completely novel.  But different Protestantisms have different novelties and many of them quarrel with one another.  Anabaptists, for instance, reject infant baptism but many Reformation traditions sternly rejected this.  Some Protestantisms rejected earlier forms of Protestantism and embraced more “Romish” ideas—only to be attacked by other Protestants.  Some were influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy.  Some resurrected old heresies that were emphatically not native to the 16th Century.  Some took sayings of the Fathers in isolation from the patristic tradition and used them as proof texts to back up notions like sola scriptura.  They would argue (erroneously, but plausibly to their audience) that their idea was not a novelty but is drawing (sort of) from the early Church.  Early Protestants tended to attack the Church for being legalistic.  Some Protestant sects today champion a return to the Old Testament dietary laws and even to keeping the whole ceremonial law of Moses (essentially attempting to carry forward the program of the Judaizers that Paul and the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) condemned.  They argue the Church went wrong, not during the “Dark Ages” but with the acceptance of Paul as an apostle.

In short, the various Protestantisms are not something utterly new in the life of the Church.  They are a resurgence of a phenomenon that has been with the Church since the start: the insistence that one’s private judgement is wiser than the Church.  It is a phenomenon still with us today on both the Pelvic-Obsessed Progressive Dissenting Left and the Bitter More Catholic Than the Pope Reactionary Dissenters, both of whom pose much more of a threat to the Church than the many Protestants who, after five centuries, no longer know what the quarrel is and who are, a great many of them, seeking reunion with Holy Church even as many Catholics are rebelling in order to pursue their own private judgements and the chaos these will surely continue to foster.