Is Christianity Knowable?

One of the main things that drove me from protestantism to Catholicism, was realising that within protestantism, I couldn’t really know about most areas of my religion. One day I could be sure an issue was settled, and the next day I would have seen an argument against my earlier position, and think the matter’s open, and within a few days my mind could completely change on an issue. And each time, I’d have to run about, looking into ancient languages, history, and literary styles, to support my new belief. Often, I was trying (with moderate success) to push my own ideas onto the Bible (I very nearly had a vegetarian Jesus at one point, but there was a pesky fish in the way…).

There could be arguments over what was scripture (“Paul never even met Jesus…”), what the scripture said (“the Hebrew word used, beit-nun-hei, was used to…), and how scripture should be read (“scripture came through men, and cannot be taken at face value”) [I can see the appeal of KJVonlyism]. I read good Christian books and theology, and found they kept referring me to a new “heart of Christianity”. It was when I heard about a Christian who believed we should still follow Jewish dietary laws that I got really fed up. Without hearing him out, I couldn’t dismiss him, as he was probably better informed on the matter than me. But I decided to anyway, because I was tired of being told I didn’t know my religion until I learned about ancient languages and history and the rest. I felt it was settled by St. Paul in the first century Anno Domini. I began to wonder if I had be a full-time scholar to know the “true” teachings of my own religion.

Sadly, these arguments aren’t confined to trivial matters. To this day, there are people arguing from the Bible against Christ’s divinity, God being the Trinity, who God loves, how we are saved, the way to read the Bible, the role of the law, the nature of sin, and much more. Today, protestantism still has to fight many of the heresies dealt with by the early Church. Protestantism is, naturally, in a worse state than the early Church was, because they have only the scriptures to refer to, and so each theologian must start again from the scriptures, whereas the early Church could also refer to the oral teachings of the apostles, and those given authority by the apostles.

As a result of this general uncertainty (and greater geographical mobility), you’ll find most protestants today will only call themselves Christian, and will avoid even calling themselves protestants (perhaps out of politeness also). Few are willing to associate with a denomination, since a better interpretation may come along, or they may move somewhere where that denomination is less to their worship taste. Exactly what constitutes a “Christian” is up for debate, and it’s accepted that on most matters, there is only opinion. As a result, churches only teach basic Christianity.

At the end of the day, the question remains unanswered, “Who is Jesus, and what exactly does he want?” Does he just want to save us, so we can sin as much as we like and still be saved? Does he want to threaten everyone with eternal torture so they obey his blood-thirsty Father? Does he want us to start a revolution? Does he want us to not judge others? Does he want us to follow him even to death? Does he want us to eat his body and drink his blood, and so enter into mystical union with him? Does he want us to be saved for doing good to the needy?

The Solution

Catholicism. Catholic teaching is known, and does not change. The Catholic Church has an immense, two thousand year old intellectual tradition, reasoning through everything thoroughly, and yet, the Catholic faith can be reasonably accepted by illiterate peasants as well as the finest scholars, because it is from the Church that Jesus founded.

The Catholic Church doesn’t struggle with the old heresies anymore, because they were definitively settled more than a millennium ago. The arguments were laid to rest, and we’re done with the matter. That’s not to say there are none left. There are always new heresies, but they’re being dealt with too.

The Church has come a long way since she was the early Church, and has remembered and passed on all of the teachings of the apostles, and ‘treasured all their words and pondered them in her heart’ (Lk 2:19). Indeed, the Church has internalised the understandings of those who originally wrote and received the scriptures, so that the Church’s teachings are naturally the teachings of the scriptures in their proper context. That’s not to say that the Church isn’t looking back to the scriptures though.

In protestantism, the believer is always looking to the fresh rain of the scriptures, but in Catholicism, the believer looks to the fresh rain of the scriptures, as well as the great torrents of the river of reflection and consideration by the saints upon those same scriptures, going back to their source in the incarnate Son of God. To take this analogy a step further, the puddle corrupts and muddies the water it receives far more than the fast flowing river.

‘Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients. Deny this, and you dissolve the unity of the Church.’
St. Thomas Aquinas

Ultimately, the reason I became a Catholic is because I had come to believe that the Catholic Church really knew Jesus. I looked at her teachings, practices, and attitudes (particularly towards poverty and suffering), and I looked at the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, and found she was living in radical continuity with Jesus and the apostles. Catholicism was the real deal. And since the Church really knew Jesus, she really knew his teaching.

God bless you.

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