This Protestant Dogma Helped Open My Eyes to the Truth of the Catholic Church

Since ‘Sola Scriptura’ is a foundation of Protestant theology, once I realized it was self-refuting, I had to back away from my Protestant beliefs.

Horace Vernet, “Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem,” 1844
Horace Vernet, “Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem,” 1844 (photo: Monique Vermeulen AHM / Public Domain)

My conversion to Catholicism was marked by many small, imperceptible movements of the Holy Spirit, as is the case for all conversions, but there are some big moments and realizations that help me trace the path that got me from there to here. A “giant leap” in my journey was the realization that one of the fundamental dogmas of my Protestant faith was not only false, but self-refuting.

At the time, Trent Beattie (now a writer and interviewer) and I had been exchanging emails in a debate that lasted more than a year. The question of the Holy Eucharist came up, and I was put in the position of having to defend my belief that the bread and wine are meant only to be symbols of the body and blood of Christ. So I turned to my Protestant apologetics books and was surprised to find essentially no place where the Bible positively says the Eucharist is only a symbol.

It occurred to me that the next place to look would perhaps be the Church Fathers since they were the closest to the Apostles. Surely some remnant of what the original Church did was still present in the writings of these first generations of Christians. I was surprised to find that they all supported the Catholic belief in the Real Presence.

I should point out that this process took months, and it would have taken longer had I not already been reading some of the Church Fathers.

In defense of my conviction about the symbolic nature of Communion, I attempted to brush aside the testimony of the Church Fathers with the thought, “Why should I rely on the Church Fathers anyway? They are not authoritative. I believe in Sola Scriptura.” That last phrase is the Latin for “by Scripture alone,” a fundamental tenet and popular slogan of Protestant theology.

In that moment, it occurred to me to ask myself, “But why believe in Sola Scriptura?” I am sure the question had come up before, but it hit home this time. When I turned to my apologetics books, I found surprisingly few references to Scripture. Instead, the arguments seemed to be something like, “Look at Catholicism. That’s what you get without Sola Scriptura. Therefore Sola Scriptura is true.”

One of the few passages used to justify Sola Scriptura, and a passage I had committed to memory, was 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be fully equipped.”

However, I had begun to study philosophy and logic, and I put that passage to the test to find out that Paul was not saying that Scripture alone should fully equip the man of God, let alone that Scripture alone should be used for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Rather, Scripture is useful for these activities, and these activities fully equip the man of God. There is no claim that Scripture alone has authority.

In fact, there were a couple of other passages from Paul’s letters that I had committed to memory which contradicted Sola Scriptura: 2 Timothy 1:13 and 2:2. In what is thought to be Paul’s last letter, he appeals to what he has said as the pattern of sound teaching that ought to be handed down.

This was a troubling realization for me, but the work of the Holy Spirit is not always comforting in the way we want it to be.

Since Sola Scriptura is itself not to be found in Scripture, it turned out to be self-refuting. Here was a theological statement, not grounded in Scripture, claiming that all theological statements must be grounded in Scripture. If held to its own standard, the doctrine must be thrown out.

Even when it came to the Bible itself, I came to realize that the list of books that makes up the Bible is not found in the Bible. Sola Scriptura assumes the presence of an authoritative collection of inspired books, but none of those books authoritatively determines exactly which books belong in that collection. If Sola Scriptura is true, then there cannot be any certainty about what Scripture is.

Since that dogma was a foundation of Protestant theology and interpretation of Scripture, I had to back away from my Protestant faith. At this point, I became what I call a denominational agnostic. I no longer gave full assent to any denomination, but I was searching. It was one step in a larger story of conversion, but it was an important one, and I know that this same realization has been a milestone for many other converts to Catholicism.

I eventually came to learn that there would be no Bible (or, at least no New Testament) without the Church. Not only is the Church necessary for the composition of Scripture and the authoritative canon of which books belong in Scripture, but she is also necessary for the authoritative interpretation of Scripture. To reject the Catholic Church is to reject the source of the Bible and wrench it from its rightful context.