Tiber Treading No More



NOTE: This article is a summary of a chapter in my book Evangelical Exodus (Ignatius Press, 2016).


The Tiber River in Italy is often used as an indirect reference to the city of Rome and, by extension, Roman Catholicism. Converts to Catholicism, then, are often said to have “swum the Tiber.” After several years of disillusionment with Evangelicalism, I found myself eyeing the Tiber’s far shores, occasionally splashing around in it, and eventually found myself neck deep in the middle. Treading can only keep one from drowning for only so long though – and so it was that with fear and trembling I finally decided it was time to swim for one side or the other.

Here is my story.evs

On Evangelical Shores

Although I (nearly) always eschewed the goofier parts of its culture, I was immersed in Evangelicalism for over 20 years before I began seriously looking outside its confines. During these years I ranged from being a Calvary Chapel guy to a Southern Baptist, but as close as “Evangelical” came to a serious agreed-upon definition, I pretty much met it (cf. Philippians 3:4-7):

By the time I reached this point in my Evangelical life, I thought I had pretty much “arrived.” I was quite happy, but the winds of change soon began to blow.

Setting Sail

My journey away from Evangelicalism did not begin with me giving up my beliefs; rather, with it was with my trying to make better sense of them.  I became more and more dissatisfied with the answers given to fundamental questions such as “How was the canon (the books in our Bible) decided?” and “What makes one doctrine essential to Christianity, but not another?” Although many other factors would eventually enter in, it was primarily these two issues that drove me on.

It seemed that the Bible-alone approach I was taught was an attempt to ground Christian unity in a way that generated disunity. Further, I realized that holding to an authoritative and infallible Bible only made sense if we had an authoritative and infallible list of which books belonged in it, and that it did little good to agree on the Bible’s contents if Christians could legitimately disagree about practically everything it taught. As to settling orthodoxy, the logical or hermeneutical methods I had been taught simply failed (even when it came to salvation). How could we claim to have “unity in the essentials” if we disagreed on what the essentials were?


Protestant Ports

My long-held assumptions were being challenged not only by skeptics like Bart Ehrman or Sam Harris, but by Evangelical scholars like D. H. Williams, Craig Allert, Mark Noll, and Os Guinness. According to some Protestant scholars, the Reformation is misunderstood by many Protestants as well. So I dug in to see what I might discover. After studying more about Church history, I saw no better answers to my questions on the horizon. The biblical canon was basically accepted from the early Church – but why? Skeptics argued that the biblical canon was just the “books that won” out in history, and Protestants seemed to agree (saying the Bible was just a “fallible collection of infallible books“).

As to the question of orthodoxy, Protestant denominations generally understood the Bible through some official confessions, but in the end they could grant these no more binding authority than Evangelical “doctrinal statements.” It seemed to me that if one was going to trust some official statement, why choose these late additions to the faith as authoritative?

At this point I was convinced of the following:

  1. The Church Jesus founded was authoritative, apostolic, unified, and visible (Mt. 16:18-19; Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor. 12:-30; Jn. 17:20-21).
  2. This Church was built on authoritative apostolic teaching – both written and verbal (2 Thess. 2:25; 3:6; 2 Tim. 2:2).
  3. This Church cannot have been, and never can be, overcome (Mt. 16:18).
  4. This Church was guided by God to accurately determine the biblical canon and orthodox creeds (1 Tim. 3:15).


Crossing the Channel

So I turned from continental Protestantism to the English Reformation (the Church of England / Anglicanism / Episcopalianism). For about three years I attended two great Anglican churches – conservative groups who had broken away from the liberal Episcopal Church in America. The problem was that the very existence of these break-off groups was made possible by the same principles that led to the existence of tens of thousands of other Protestant denominations.

I also had difficulty defending Anglicanism’s causes (i.e., Henry the VIII’s desire to divorce his wife and English politics) as well as its effects (e.g., divorce, contraception, homosexual marriage / ordination, heretical bishops, etc.). Thus, although these particular Anglicans were solid, I could not ultimately commit to Anglicanism.


The Headwaters of the Ancient Church

In the New Testament I found a Church that was not always what it should have been – but rather than proving that the Church could not be trusted, this merely showed that it was not always trustworthy (just like the authors of the Bible!). More importantly, I found that this Church had authoritative means of correcting itself – that, at times, it acted with God’s supervision and oversight (e.g., Acts 15), and so could be trusted (again, just like the authors of the Bible!). This ability was never considered lost by the Church: authoritative councils continued to be enacted, and authoritative creeds continued to be written. Much of this occurred well before the New Testament canon was settled (much less readily available).

I finally had to admit that the Church which produced the creeds of orthodoxy and the canon of Scripture was neither Evangelical nor Protestant. The problem with this ancient Church was that seemed to be a thing of the past. Toward the end of the first millennium, a great schism broke the ancient Church into “Eastern Orthodoxy” and “Roman Catholicism.”


The Orthodox Branch

Once I turned toward the ancient Church, new questions had to be asked. Catholics and Orthodox both had a legitimate historical claim to its identity, but I found Eastern Orthodoxy too culturally divided both internally and externally. I feared what would happen if I ever moved away from the good local Orthodox church we had. Finally, while I sensed occasional animosity from both sides toward the other, the western Church seemed more accepting of the East (what it calls the “second lung” of the Body), and I was not interested in fighting that battle.

In the end, I had to agree with Thomas Howard’s assessment: I didn’t start the schism, I probably can’t resolve it, and for better or worse, I am western. That left only one viable option – one I never thought I’d even consider. The dreaded “C” word.


Toes in the Tiber

Theoretically narrowing the choices down to Catholicism was not enough for me to make the Tiber swim. I always thought Catholicism had serious doctrinal problems. In fact, my website used to include an entire section on its errors! Unfortunately most of my information was secondhand summaries from what I read in anti-Catholic literature. I would never accept such a practice from anyone criticizing my beliefs, so I started reading primary sources.

When I did, I found Catholicism to be quite different than I had envisioned. I found that I was, in fact, already in agreement with much more of Catholicism than I would have guessed. Teachings on Transubstantiation, Purgatory, the RosaryMary, the saints and meriting salvation (what Evangelicals thought of as “legalism“) made quite a bit more sense than I would have imagined. Once the above misconceptions were cleared away, I saw that many of the things I initially found objectionable were based on principles that I already held, but had simply never extrapolated.

Wading In

I spent the next couple of years diving in to anything I could read on Evangelical conversion. I blogged, debated, taught, and discussed these issues as much as possible. In the process I made many Catholic friends and, unfortunately, lost some Evangelical friends. I also had several Evangelical friends convert to Catholicism (and some to Orthodoxy) for largely the same reasons I was looking into it. Although there were some serious obstacles remaining, I could not tread forever.


Tiber Treading

After five years of study and discussion, I began attending RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults – classes for those interested in joining, or just learning more about, the Catholic Church) at the parish where most of my Catholic friends went. My issues began to be settled, questions answered, and mistaken notions clarified. Catholicism filled in so many of the holes I always had to step around in Evangelicalism.

I eventually asked myself this: “If every Christian that had ever lived came back to life next Sunday and went to their respective churches, where would I want to attend?” The church of Ignatius, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Dante, J. R. R.Tolkien, G. K. Chesterton, John Henry Newman, Mother Teresa, Flannery O’Connor, Francis Beckwith, and Peter Kreeft sounded pretty good! How could all these great Christians throughout history – many who formed, expounded, lived, and defended so much of the Christian faith as we know it today – get it as horribly wrong as Protestants believed they had?

TiberTravels Dog Paddling To Shore

Somewhere along the line I came across this quote from Thomas Aquinas that really convicted me of my theological autonomy:

Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. . . . Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. (Summa Theologiae II.II.5.3)

Becoming Catholic would mean choosing to trust the Church instead of myself, and sometimes the two did not sync well. To be honest, I never really reached a point of total comfort with the idea of becoming Catholic, but I came to think that perhaps God wanted me to make a true faith decision – not just another move from one form of Christianity to another according to my personal preference.

I resonated with Peter’s words recorded in John 6:68 – “To whom [else] shall I go?”

And so it was that during the Easter Vigil of 2014, I dragged myself, exhausted, onto the Tiber’s banks and was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. While I was not (to riff off of C. S. Lewis) “the most dejected and reluctant Catholic in all America,” I cannot say I was completely euphoric. But I was finally on solid ground.


“To those of you with whom I have traveled in the past, know that we travel together still. In the mystery of Christ and his Church nothing is lost, and the broken will be mended. If, as I am persuaded, my communion with Christ’s Church is now the fuller, then it follows that my unity with all who are in Christ is now the stronger. We travel together still.” – Richard John Neuhaus


46 thoughts on “Tiber Treading No More

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I was blessed to proceed your journey by two years. You treaded the waters a bit longer than I did, but sounds like our struggles and enlightenments were similar. I was shocked to find the Catholic Church to be what it was once I study it(wanting to hear really what it taught). I really didn’t expect it to be something I would find reasonable. I believe it is GK Chesterton who said something similar to “once you are not fighting against the Catholic Church you are moving closer to it.” I can’t find the exact quote, but I found it to be true. I believe it to be the Christian ethic Christ formed in me while an evangelical that led me to give the Catholic Church a fair chance, and in doing that I came to understand the mind/rational of the Church. I think once you gain that and recognize that your trust in God is at stake in becoming Catholic it is truly a great tragedy to abstain from communion. Like you said you are like Peter talking to Christ and asking, “To whom else shall we go?”

    Blessings and joy to you this Easter. I am glad to have you as a brother in communion with Christ to the praise and glory of God our Father.


  2. Found it! Here is it accurate and with some context. It took some googling and I found it on Steve Ray’s site.

    “He has come too near to the truth, and has forgotten that truth is a magnet, with the powers of attraction and repulsion. . . . The moment men cease to pull against [the Catholic Church] they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair. . . . When he has entered the Church, he finds that the Church is much larger inside than it is outside.”
    G. K. Chesterton
    The Catholic Church and Conversion”

    – See more at: http://www.catholic-convert.com/about/why-im-catholic/#sthash.Jk0eVhKF.dpuf

  3. First, I would like to congratulate you on your entry into the Roman Catholic faith. It is certainly a step up from evangelical protestantism and I have much admiration and respect for many Roman Catholics. As someone who spent years in RCIA but ultimately opted to become Eastern Orthodox, I see it as my duty to point out why the reasons you offer for deciding against Orthodoxy (which I have seen many times and still find lacking) don’t hold up under historical and philosophical criticism.

    “The problem was that while the Orthodox had a legitimate claim to being the modern-day ancient Church, they (by their own admission) remained largely culture-locked and vague on some important issues.”

    The logical conclusion of this observation, as I am sure you are aware, is in no way “therefore Catholicism is true,” especially given that the ancient unified Church and the Latin Church have both experienced these attributes in the past. Even in my case, the local Roman Catholic parish is over 90 percent Hispanic as are many Catholic parishes in the U.S. Does that mean that I should consider the more diverse bible church or Presbyterian parish?

    ” Further, they had no clear criteria for, or ability to call, an authoritative, universally binding council.”

    What is important here is not whether a church has a clear criteria for calling councils, but understanding how the council process worked in the ancient church so one may understand whether -if a church claims to have a criteria- such a criteria is legitimate. After all, efficiency and organization are only good things if pointed in the right direction. The early church did not have a quick, streamlined, and organized process of holding and accepting councils. It often took decades to both organize and accept such councils as binding, and even then this process was often only prevented from taking even longer by the presence of an emperor who had the authority to call such councils.

    “Finally the objective fact of communion-breaking disagreements between various Orthodox groups called their unity into question. In the end, Orthodoxy seemed to work better in principle than practice, and although it avoided Protestantism’s most serious flaws, Orthodoxy’s disunity seemed to differ from Protestantism more in degree than kind.”

    Disagreement is not disunity.

    I hate to be harsh, but your reasons for rejecting Orthodoxy make it sound like it just wasn’t efficient enough for you. In the first millenia of the Church it never was. Establishing doctrines was a long,messy, and painstaking process. If anything these attributes of the early Church bolster Orthodoxy’s case.

    If you want an efficient, organized church that has answers readily available for every question (even if they might not be the right answer) then be Catholic or Mormon. Such organizations are great at that. If anyone is looking for the Church that holds the faith delivered once and for all to the saints, I invite you to learn more about Orthodoxy.

  4. Thanks for sharing. It’s a great summary of your journey with a lot of helpful links.

    I too recently joined the church (though mine was a re-vert), and am much indebted to many of your blog posts (on topics like the canon, transubstantiation, Mary, etc) and on your book list.

    One big issue for me of Catholic over Orthodox was that of papal supremacy and infallibility – the authority that’s provided to the position (in the Catholic church) vs the argument of “first among equals” (by the Orthodox church). And of course this issue is probably the biggest issue when it comes to reunification of East and West. You mentioned that Orthodox was better in theory than in practice and that some of it’s issues (culture-locked, vagueness on some important issues, disunity among Orthodox groups) were your main reasons for heading toward the Catholic church, but didn’t really touch on this (perhaps most) critical issue of papal supremacy in this post. I haven’t been able to reconcile it well myself. I’ve read good arguments on both sides of the issue and finally determined that I would rather be a part of either the East or West than neither the East or West – and that I am a westerner, so the West is probably where I belong.

    One other question – did your wife convert with you? If this is included in your request that “inquiries or comments about my journey should be directed to me – not my family or friends.” then please disregard! My wife and I came to Catholicism at different speeds and from different angles, and I’m always interested to hear other experiences.

  5. Doug! Congratulations on finding peace in your quest. It may feel like the end of the journey but its really just the beginning of another, so enjoy. My own journey, as you know, took me to Orthodoxy a couple of years ago but the process is similar so I understand what its like to leave a world you know so well behind and embrace a new one. At some point, you just have to make the jump.

    I’m confused by your assessment of Orthodoxy. Maybe you were just being brief for the sake of getting to the larger point, but it seems that your objections are either non-issues, incorrect or things that can be said of Roman Catholicism as well. I’ve no training in apologetics and I don’t expect to change your mind here, these are just some things I think are worth mentioning. For example:

    1) You said “…they (by their own admission) remained largely culture-locked and vague on some important issues.”
    I don’t know what the important issues that need clarification are so I’ll skip that, but your first point is not so black and white and its more an American anomaly than anything. I don’t think anyone would complain that the Russian Church within Russia has a truly Russian character to it, so we’re dealing with America here. Remember, the reason we have so many ethnic groups making up Orthodoxy in America is because of communist persecution. I don’t think the intent was to stay here, but rather to leave once the communist mess was over…they’d go back home and carry on with their lives. Well, sometimes life is more complicated than that, especially when literally millions and millions of martyrs were created in the process, so here we are nearly 100 years later and we haven’t figured out how to straighten out our jurisdictional mess. Is it a problem? Sure. Will it work itself out? Sure, eventually. Keep in mind that 100 years is nothing in the grand scheme of things. How long did both the Arian and iconoclastic heresies nearly consume the faith? And how much more terrible were those things! Considering that and all the other issues we’ve dealt with, I don’t think our situation in the US is insurmountable by any means. Parishes that are on the ethnocentric side of things do exist here and its wrong, but they’re the minority in my own experience. There are plenty of parishes that are truly “American”, faithful to Orthodoxy and faithful to the Great Commission even if they bear the name “Russian”, “Greek”, “Serbian”, etc.

    2) You said “Further, they had no clear criteria for, or ability to call, an authoritative, universally binding council.”
    This is not my area of expertise, but here’s my 2 cents. If this is a problem for us its a problem for you guys, too. An “ecumenical” council is one convoked by the Emperor and we haven’t had one of those in some time. The council is convened, the Patriarchal and Metropolitan synods sign the minutes and then the Emperor countersigns and its done…the council is now part of Church law AND Roman law. There were no ecumenical councils before Constantine and there aren’t any now. Subsequent councils may still be part of canon law, but they’re not “ecumenical” by definition without that rubber stamp of Imperial approval.
    As an aside, I do not understand the value in having a Pope that is capable of making an ex cathedra statement on an issue when every major controversy and heresy was dealt with in a conciliar manner. I mean, my goodness, why not spare the imperial coffer the expense of calling together hundreds of bishops from around the globe if he can settle it on the spot? I realize that’s not an argument but its something to chew on.

    3) You said “Finally the objective fact of communion-breaking disagreements between various Orthodox groups called their unity into question.”
    Maybe you can provide specific examples, but overall, I think perspective is key here. Was there a schism among the Apostles when Judas betrayed Christ, in the sense that two legitimate communities were created, or did he break communion with the rest and leave? Did the Church split into Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian churches, or did the so-called monophosites leave the visible communion of the Church? Again, perspective–You’ll get a different answer depending on which side you’re talking to. There is plenty of schism within Roman Catholicism; many traditionalists have broken communion with the Vatican just as we have our own Old Calendar traditionalists who have done the same. Are these new groups rightly called churches or did they leave and they need to repent and return?

  6. Great story, thanks so much for sharing your experience. One question, why do you say that RCIA is useless? My husband and I went through the RCIA process back in 2006 and were received into the Church (thank you GOD!!) in 2007. We greatly enjoyed our time in RCIA and learned quite a bit about the Church, its teachings, Scripture, Tradition, etc. We found it to be a loving and nurturing environment. We had great catechists who were passionate about the Faith and the Church but tempered that with an understanding that those of us in the class came from different places in our beliefs and previous faith formation. I hope that, for whatever reason you made that comment, that it doesn’t deter anyone who may be considering attending RCIA. Thanks again for sharing your experience, God bless!

  7. This is a very interesting story. I welcome you home! I only have one real criticism, and that is your equating the entire Catholic Church with the ROMAN Catholic Church. Some of the criticisms you level against various Eastern Orthodox Churches you would also be able to apply to the Eastern Churches that constitute the Catholic Church. Just be careful, and do your research. Do yourself a favor and visit an Eastern Rite Catholic Church, such as a Ukrainian, Ruthenian (Byzantine), Maronite, Syro-Malabar, etc. and get a true picture of how big the Church truly is. And don’t forget about the much more ancient Mass than the Novus Ordo–attend a traditional Latin Mass. We have a big, diverse Church. Check it out.

  8. wonderful blog. As a Catholic who joined through RCIA at my college campus Neman center, though I would say that RCIA was a meaningful experience well suited to help me at that point in my life. For someone with as much experience and study hours as you have, perhaps it didn’t have the same impact.

  9. Helen, my RCIA had a lot of impact – it was excellent. But the year before, I had the same priests telling me not to bother haha. RCIA varies widely and much of it is just socializing. I am glad yours was good!

  10. Julie,

    Thanks for your comments. We actually have an excellent Eastern Rite church that meets at my parish which I have visited several times. Their members taught several of our RCIA classes. I am very drawn to the East, and I do not think my (overall) preference for the Western Church diminishes that. I am not sure what criticisms of EO would overlap, and I was not trying to do that in any case. God bless!

  11. Ournew….,

    Thanks! I may have to amend whatever I said about RCIA since so many people are focusing on that. I was just reporting what I was told by other Catholics form their experience. RCIA can vary a lot! God bless!

  12. Nathan,

    Good to hear form you again! I re-wrote that section a bit as I think it was misunderstood as a treatise against Eastern Orthodoxy. To be honest, by this point I felt like I was looking at a new house with two floors and was simply trying to figure out which floor suited me best. 🙂 The brief treatment (as you noted I was trying to be brief – i.e., keep it to 5,000 words hahaha) should be seen as the relatively unimportant factors that went into my final move. Most of what you commented on has been changed or expunged but I will comment a bit anyway.

    What I meant by cultural lock is not that within one culture there is not unity – but that is my point. Naturally all the “X” churches are united insofar as they are all “X”- but why is there disagreement beyond these “X” borders? Perhaps it is an accident of history, but it has not happened to other traditions. The division in America proves the point to me – when you actually get the Russians and Greeks and “X, Y, Z” together they do not unite. It may only be a temporary problem and I hope so. But Catholciism does not have it now! 🙂

    2. I disagree with this definition of a council. Emperor’s may have called them in the past (and that’s fine) but certainly not always. The Church decides what is a council and what is not and we do not need any secular power to convoke one. Papal infallibility is more complicated than it is presented. The ordinary means are conciliar, but at least in theory even apostles and patriarchs can err, so the buck has to stop at an office that is protected from heresy. As far as I know, only Eastern Patriarchs have ever been found to be heretics. Something else to chew on. 🙂

    3. This is what i was told by EO teachers, if I was wrong I blame them hahaha. I took that part out – like I said, I am not trying to get into this fight. I love both sides and just wish we’d all get along. 🙂

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful reading and words. Hope we meet in person some day!

  13. Jeff,

    Thanks so much for writing in. I actually just re-wrote that section as I found that it was being misunderstood as an attack on Eastern Orthodoxy. To be honest, by this point I felt like I was looking at a new house with two floors and was simply trying to figure out which floor suited me best. 🙂 These were all relatively unimportant factors, and the brevity of that section was supposed to reflect that. Re-read that portion for my responses and see what you think!

    My wife did not come in with me, she is still investigating.

    God bless.

  14. Seraphim,

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Let me say right up front that I re-wrote that section as I in no way meant for it to be seen as an attack against Eastern Orthodoxy. The brief treatment was due to there being (in my mind) relatively unimportant factors that went into my final move. That is, both RC and EO were neck and neck at this point, so there was little to say regarding the main thrust of the article. Most of what you commented on has been changed or expunged but I will comment a bit anyway.

    As to culture-lock, in all honesty this was not even my observation. Having spent most of my time at a great local EO church, I certainly did not see it firsthand! Rather, I was told by many orthodox themselves of this issue, read about it in some conversion books, and found it reflected on many websites. As to the diversity issue, while any individual church might be more or less integrated, that was not my concern. A church in a hispanic neighborhood is going to be mostly hispanic – no problem there. What I meant was that fact that in one city you might have both Russian and Greek Orthodox that never cross paths and who distrust white guys like us. 🙂 (Again – this is what I have heard, numerous times, not experienced). Since there is no “American Orthodoxy” that is universally recognized (ahem!), I was always fearful that my family would have to become Russian or something if we ever moved.

    The council issue was also something I was told by EO’s themselves. I understand that the process was not clean – but is it even possible today? I was told the EO do not think so.

    Although I found some objective issues more easily resolved by western thinking (perhaps because I tend to think westernly!), there was definitely some subjectivity at play in my final move. Honestly by that point I was not all that worried about it. I think that RC and EO make up the ancient Church in a way that Protestantism and Mormonism do not. So at that point of decision it was OK to have subjective desires enter in. Like I said in another comment it was like leaving one house and moving into another one with two floors – the decision to change houses is much more important than which floor of the new house one chooses. And that house move is what this article was primarily directed at.

    God bless.

  15. Soteriology 101.
    “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13 Every member of the church Jesus Christ is head of knows that Paul is not referencing the Sinai code, rather he is referencing a law that has been added after Jesus was crucified.

  16. Thanks for replying, Doug.

    The rewrite sounds better. I like your analogy of a house with 2 floors. And I like your inclusion of Thomas Howard’s paraphrase from Evangelical is Not Enough (which was perhaps the most influential book in my conversion to Catholicism). Here’s the quote from the postscript:

    I cannot by myself, of course, untie the Gordian knot. I am aware of what the Orthodox church says in its case against the West, about filioque and Hellenism and Petrine infallibility. And I am aware of what the West replies about schism…. The question, What is the Church? becomes, finally, intractable; and one finds oneself unable to offer any very telling reasons why the phrase “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic,” which we all say in the Creed, is to be understood in any way other than the way in which it was understood for 1500 years. I am sharply aware of the fissure between the Latin and Orthodox churches in this matter, and on this point I must dodge behind a manifestly flimsy shield, namely, that I, as a solitary layman, cannot untangle what these churches have been unable, for 1000 years, to untangle. I am a Western Christian, for good or ill.

    Your rewrite still dodged the big question on papal supremacy infallibility (which I’m not faulting you for!). I would still love to hear your assessment of the issue at some point (unless you’ve already addressed in a post I couldn’t find). It’s knot that I wasn’t able to untie and one that I, like Thomas Howard, hid from using a “flimsy shield”.

  17. Thanks Patrick! I mentioned you indirectly on FB but since you’re in hiding again, Kim will have to show it to you. 🙂

  18. Jeff, haha not a dodge, just for another time. The Cliff’s Notes version is that I think the historical facts can be explained by both sides and so it is left to theory to break the tie. Since we know even apostles can fall, the only way to know for sure “where the church is” cannot be based on apostolic succession alone. if there is no single office protected from heresy, then it comes back to whose theology is “best” (which ends up begging the question). As far as I know, only the Bishop of Rome has enjoyed that protection. Not to say there have not been popes in error (dante assigned some to hell, after all!), but they never formally taught or defined it. The same cannot be said for the Eastern patriarchs (I think Currie has a chart showing this).

  19. Yes, they are both very good. Being old books they can be found for free or near nothing on kindle. Confessions of a Convert was like reading lines from my own heart at times. Paradoxes of Catholicism is a short book and it helped me comprehend why love of the Church even with her sinful members is essential. It is the oneness of Christ and the Church which makes the individual trust of each separately make little sense. Once Christ has revealed He works through the Church it is then Christ one is fighting against in rejecting the Church and her people. He has truly made himself one with us through His life, death and resurrection.
    Anyway, hope you get a chance to read some of Benson’s works. Let me know what you think, if you do.

    Blessings and peace,

  20. Can’t beat two books for 99 cents! 🙂 Thanks!

    On Wed, Apr 23, 2014 at 10:41 AM, Soul Device wrote:


  21. Dear Doug,
    What primary resources would you recommend as introductory texts concerning what the Roman Catholic Church teaches? I appreciate your writing a great deal as it has helped me think well.

    Josh Jacobs

  22. Thanks for clarifying, Doug. To be clear, I wasn’t saying that councils are not possible but that they are not all “ecumenical”. There are many other local councils that have taken place throughout the centuries. For example, the Synod of Jerusalem condemned Calvinism as heresy in 1672. Also, we have a big Pan-Orthodox council planned for next or or the following (I can’t remember). All of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches will be present.

  23. Josh,

    I have a list here. As far as single resources (i.e., not the 1,000 documents online haha) I would strongly recommend just getting the Catholic Catechism. it reads well straight through or by topic. For some good commentary from a philosophical apologist, Peter Kreeft’s commentary on the catechism (“Catholic Christianity“) is very good. For a shorter intro, Trese’s “The Faith Explained” has also been recommended to me by several people (I have it but have not read it all yet).

  24. Nathan,

    Right – I qualified that statement in my blog with “authoritative” and “universal” to avoid the local council issue. But none of these would go beyond the jurisdiction of the members would they?

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  27. Doug,
    Honestly, though I have seen this coming for quite a while it is still more than a little disturbing now that it has actually happened. The thinly veiled put-downs of evangelical thought and doctrine (whether justified or not) aren’t easy to take, either.

    That being said, nothing will take away my appreciation and respect for what you put into the four classes I took from you, as well as how seriously you take your faith. My education was greatly enriched, and I continue to learn a lot from your blog. Thanks for sharing. It’ll be interesting to see what develops in the future.

    You will be greatly missed on this side of the Tiber!


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  29. Brent,

    Thank you for your kind words. I am sorry if my criticisms came across as “put downs.” I do not have a grudge against Evangelicalism in general, even if I cannot say the same of some of its prominent members. I owe much to the movement and it retains a place in my heart. You are a bright student and I hope you will continue your studies. If there is anything I can do to help out, please feel free to let me know. God bless!

  30. Prof. Beaumont,

    I was a student in five of your classes. I cannot say that I am surprised at your decision (though you always represented the school beliefs fairly) nor will I enter into debate with you as I know that you have done that with far more qualified than myself. One thing among many that always made your classes special was the work you put into them to make them active learning experiences. Although I disagree with your conclusions in some areas, I never doubt for a second you arrived at them after much careful study and intense prayer. I deeply appreciated your passion and insight when you taught and your classes are certainly some of my most treasured times at school. I pray you will continue to never accept things (at least not the really important things) at face value and will continue to honestly investigate all that you hear and learn. Please know I love you and continue to be blessed by your work. May God bless you and your family and give you strength, wisdom, grace and love.

  31. Joe,

    Thank you for your kind words! You were always a considerate student which was appreciated in an atmosphere that was often charged with attitude concerning personal beliefs. God bless you on your continued journey and if there is any aid I can provide, let me know.

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