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#28: Former Calvinist Theologian and Historian Set Out to Disprove the Catholic Church, and Becomes Catholic—The Story of Dr. David Anders

The “Becoming Catholic” series presents the biblical, philosophical, and historical evidence for why Eternal Christendom Founder, Joshua Charles, became and remains Catholic. The series table of contents is here.

Dr. David Anders and John Calvin (1509-1564)

Few conversion stories had as big of an effect on my own conversion as that of Dr. David Anders. Before becoming Catholic, he was a Calvinist theologian and historian who had set out to defend the reformation and disprove Catholicism. But after years of studying the sources, Anders himself ended up Catholic. He realized the reformers themselves were nothing like what he had been taught, and that the ancient Church—far from being an example of a “pure” protestantism, divested of all its corrupted, Catholic barnacles that had accrued over the centuries—was thoroughly and completely Catholic.

I’ve encountered few people who present the historical and theological case for the Catholic Church as well as Dr. Anders. What is particularly compelling to me, as an intellectual who attempts to be extremely thorough in all my research—particularly with original sources—is that, unlike many who often prooftext various Fathers and others, whose “research” rarely goes beyond reading a few books and some Google searches, Anders actually read all of the writings of those he makes the strongest claims about. For example, he read every single word written by both St. Augustine, and John Calvin. Very few are this thorough in their research. For myself, I believed that if there was any case to be made against the Catholic Church from the protestant side, the strongest one could only be made by Calvinists, those who claim to be “reformed.” Therefore, the fact that Dr. Anders was himself a Calvinist who became Catholic was particularly compelling to me. There are many such examples, but few went as deep into the sources as he did. His conversion to Catholicism took over a decade. By the end of his deep dive, he realized the Catholic Church was exactly what it has claimed to be for 2,000 years: the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

For years, I have recommended protestant friends hear Dr. Anders’s story. In fact, I’ve done it so often that I decided to create one big article in which I could share the videos of what I consider to be his best interviews, and provide a transcript by subject of some of their most powerful sections, time-stamped to where they appear in each interview. The interviews were part of a show called The Journey Home, which was started by Marcus Grodi, a convert from reformed protestantism (Calvinism) himself. It consists of interviews by Grodi of various converts to the Catholic faith. Many of them came from protestantism, but you’ll also find Jewish, Latter-Day Saint (Mormon), Buddhist, atheist, etc. converts as well.

I will cover three of Anders’s interviews on The Journey Home: the first from February 8, 2010; the second from January 15, 2019; and the third, a joint interview with fellow protestant convert Ken Hensley, from February 5, 2019.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=R5NT32Y-Mrk%3Fwmode%3Dopaque

FIRST INTERVIEW (February 8, 2010)

AN EVANGELICAL CHILDHOOD

Let’s begin with his first interview on The Journey Home on February 8, 2010.

Anders had a childhood very much like my own. While mine was more “non-denominational,” and his was more explicitly presbyterian, our intellectual journey to the Catholic Faith was very similar. He grew up in what he labeled a very conservative evangelical presbyterian denomination, very concerned with getting as many people saved as possible. He was taught a theology centered around being “born again” by asking Jesus into your heart. He describes becoming Catholic as “the last thing I ever thought I would ever do,” having grown up believing the Catholic Church was “Antichrist,” the “church of Satan,” he said.

STUDYING TO DISPROVE CATHOLICISM

So he set out to become the best protestant theologian he could become, largely to disprove Catholicism:

[8:16] I decided with my wife’s consent that I really wanted to go to seminary, and I wanted to commit my life to the study of theology. And, truthfully, one of my major goals was to combat the Catholic Church. I considered it my duty as an evangelical protestant theologian to show that the reformation was correct, was on sound footing, and that the Catholic Church was in error. That was my objective…Converting a Catholic to the faith was almost the highest form of spirituality I could practice.

Anders went on to attend Wheaton College, then Trinity Evangelical Divinity School—both well-known and prestigious in the evangelical protestant world. At seminary, he studied church history in depth, and even majored in it. He planned to be a teacher and seminary professor. “My main objective in teaching church history was to justify the reformation,” he said.

At seminary, he began learning a little bit about Church history, but most of it was from Martin Luther forward:

[10:46] One of the things that is part and parcel of protestant identity is the notion that the early church was sound…We’re never told exactly what we mean by the “early church.” We don’t know when the early church falls away. But at some point the church allegedly falls away from the purity of the gospel only to be recovered by Martin Luther in the 16th century…

Anders explained that the previous 1,500 years were hardly analyzed at all, with one glaring exception—St. Augustine:

[11:13] When you get to seminary and you begin to study and you really press and say “okay, well, who were these early Christians?” The only answer that you’re ever given [is] they loved the Church Father Augustine of Hippo. They love Augustine, because Augustine has a very high doctrine of grace; he loves the Bible; and they think they find some commonalities in Augustine. So our study of the Fathers in seminary really majored on a few themes when we could find areas of commonality, particularly in Augustine in his battle with the Pelagian heretics over the issues of grace and justification and salvation. They would gravitate towards those issues, and they would always interpret them with a very protestant slant. So that’s my exposure at this stage of my education to the Fathers.

After finishing seminary, he decided to pursue a PhD in historical theology at the well-respect department of religion at the University of Iowa. Again, he elected to focus on the reformation, and particularly the thought and the writing of John Calvin:

[13:47] I really wanted to prepare my pedigree to be the perfect protestant theology professor—learn all these sources of the protestant faith.

Then he paused, took a deep breath, and said, “And I was rudely awakened.”

A RUDE AWAKENING FROM ST. AUGUSTINE

Anders’s rude awakening came at the hands of St. Augustine. He described what happened:

[14:04] I studied everything that I was supposed to study and the first hint that something wasn’t right was when I really began to dive into Augustine of Hippo…He is the one Church Father to whom the protestants point above all as “this is the one guy who believed like we do.” And I read thousands and thousands of pages of Augustine, and I took comprehensive exams on Augustine, and I learned Augustine. And I came to the shocking discovery that lo and behold, Augustine was a Catholic, and when I looked at his views of salvation, and justification, they were Catholic. I put them side to side with the Council of Trent—they were Catholic. I put them side to side with the writings of Thomas Aquinas—they were Catholic. And I realized that the unique protestant accents that Luther put on justification and salvation, particularly faith alone, were utterly absent in the mind of St. Augustine. Utterly absent. And in fact, his views were anathematized, rejected by the reformers—not by name, they didn’t reject Augustine—but his views. So this bothered me, and I began to look deeper, and thought, “Well, if it’s not Augustine, maybe there’s somebody earlier. Maybe Augustine lost it, but someone else had it correct.”

After realizing St. Augustine was thoroughly Catholic, and did not hold to Luther’s views of justification, Anders went digging even further back in Church history:

[15:58] I can remember specifically the day I figured out that Augustine was a Catholic, and that he really, really did not hold to Luther’s views, [and] rushing in and finding a Lutheran friend of mine and saying, “Where do I go now? What Father should I read?” And he didn’t have an answer. But I began to look, and went back to the third century, the second century, and it was even more terrifying, because the earlier I went, the less like protestants they looked. And the doctrine of the second century Church was even farther removed from Luther. So then I thought, “Well maybe I need to re-examine the writings of St. Paul. So I’m going to go back to my Greek text, I’m going to go back to the Bible, I’m going to look at Scripture itself and see ‘can I find Luther in the writings of St. Paul?’”

LUTHER, ST. PAUL, AND JUSTIFICATION

Anders was resolved to consult all the authorities he could, particularly protestant authorities. He was determined, in his words, “to convince myself of the truth of the Lutheran position on Scripture.”

In his study, Anders came upon a movement in protestant scholarship called the “New Perspective on Paul,” which sought to interpret Paul in light of his Jewish context in the first century:

[17:21] These [were] first class biblical scholars, all of them protestants, all of them with a protestant view of the Bible as the sole rule of faith, and I come to find out that the best in protestant scholarship in the 20th century rejects Luther…Their point of view on Paul is not entirely Catholic. But they provided me with a framework for seeing that Paul also [like Augustine] could not really truthfully and honestly be read from a Lutheran point of view. Luther misunderstood Paul. So from the sources of the faith, from the Fathers of the Church, and from the best in protestant scholarship, I eventually came to the position that justification by faith alone was a 16th century invention by a Saxon monk who’d left the Church, and was no part of historic Christianity. And yet I still didn’t consider becoming Catholic. But my faith was shaken.

This process went on for years. But Anders decided to put justification on the backburner, as he called it, in the hope that he could continue, in good conscience, to prepare to be employed at a presbyterian institution.

Then he began to study the writings of the reformers themselves, Calvin especially, at which point, he said, “I have another rude awakening.”

RUDE AWAKENING #2: NO “BORN AGAIN” IN LUTHER OR CALVIN

Anders described this second “rude awakening” this way:

[19:09] That [the rude awakening] is, that the reformers themselves don’t believe the doctrines that I was taught growing up; that there is a difference between evangelical American Christianity in the 21st century, and the religion of 16th century protestantism. Specifically, let’s go to the doctrine of being born again, inviting Jesus into your heart, you have to be born again. This is absent. This is completely absent from the writings of Calvin or Luther. Both of them assumed that Christian life begins with baptism. Now, their understanding of baptism wasn’t entirely Catholic. They had some things right, they had some things wrongs. But they all agreed Christian life begins at baptism. You can read all of Calvin and you will not find one exhortation to a Christian audience that anyone in there should be born again. The assumption is they are…I looked at the doctrine of sola scriptura. I always thought that meant, “okay, I need to read the Bible and find out if these doctrines that I’m being taught are true. It’s what I had done with justification. And I come to find out that this is not how sola scriptura, the Bible alone, was applied in the 16th century. In fact, Calvin specifically had a very high view of his own divine authority to interpret the Bible. And in fact, strongly opposed the laity in his own church challenging his authority to interpret Scripture or coming to different interpretations. There was a very celebrated controversy in his lifetime with a fellow by the name of Bolsec over the doctrine or predestination, and he was arguing with Calvin about predestination. But for me the most interesting thing about that conflict wasn’t predestination. It was the assumption about who has the right to interpret Scripture. And when you read Calvin’s responses, that’s what really upset him—it was that a layman would dare to challenge his right to interpret the Bible with authority. And I began to see this notion of church authority and sola scriptura—the way we live that in 20th century America is different from the way they lived it in the reformation.

RUDE AWAKENING #3: CALVIN, CHURCH AUTHORITY, AND “ESSENTIAL VS. NON-ESSENTIAL” DOCTRINE

Anders then had another rude awakening, this time about Calvin’s high view of church authority; his denial of the laity the right to interpret Scripture for themselves; and the troubling fact that virtually immediately, various protestant sects began dividing over doctrines they considered life or death (“essential”), but that modern evangelicals had long since abandoned:

[22:32] There are a number of places in Calvin—you don’t hear these in the presbyterian church today—but when I got into the sources, [I saw that] he claims to be a prophet; he claims to speak with divine authority; he believes very strongly in the necessity of ordination, except in his own case, because he sees himself as having been specially elected by God for this role. He’s been raised up like an Apostle. This is the kind of language he uses [for] himself. There was another issue that I found very disturbing in comparing my own evangelical upbringing to the reformers. And that had to do with ecclesiology beyond just the issue of authority. Things like the sacraments, the Eucharist. Are these essential parts of the Christian faith? Or are they non-essentials? Can we dispense with them? And growing up, our view was if someone was born again, they believed in salvation by faith alone, they believed in the Bible as the sole rule of faith, then they were in. And if they disagreed on baptism, or the Lord’s supper, or church government, these were non-essential issues, and you could just let them pass. That was a really key element of evangelical faith. We actually prided ourselves on not bringing up walls between presbyterians or methodists or baptists. We’re all just brothers in the Lord. When I went back to the 16th century, I discovered that was not at all the view of the reformers. Calvin actually says in one little treatise he writes in the 1540’s that a proper understanding of the Eucharist is necessary for salvation. And as you know, Luther wanted to go to war over the issue of the Eucharist rather than join with the Zwinglians, [who] is a reformed theologian, and the Swiss over what he held to be a heretical doctrine of the Eucharist. He thought the reformed church, the Calvinists, were worse than the Catholics. So these issues to the protestants were life or death issues. And once again I woke up and realized, “Are they life or death issues? I’ve always thought that these are variable, and they don’t matter, and they’re non-essential. But here, my own forefathers are telling me that the nature of the Eucharist, baptism, church authority, all of these are issues that are worth dying for, and worth killing for. Do I need to reexamine these issues?”

THE VENERATION OF SAINTS AND RELICS

At this point, Anders knew he was in trouble. Everything he had been taught or assumed about his evangelical presbyterian faith was beginning to crumble. It was at this point the first hook of Catholic doctrine began to catch him: the veneration of saints and relics. Anders describes how his historical research led him to realize that, far from being a medieval invention, this had been an essential part of Christianity from the beginning:

[24:51] I’m getting very worried at this point…There was another piece of the puzzle. In my dissertation work, I did a lot of study on the history of spirituality and devotion. And I studied the early Church again, and I discovered another fact that was very disturbing to me, and that was the prevalence of the veneration of saints and relics in the ancient Church. I had always sort of conceived these things as a medieval invention, really a deformation of the faith, something that the medieval church brought in. [There was] no biblical basis for it as far as I could see. Certainly couldn’t have been any basis in the early church for this. And the light really went off in my head when I was reading a study of the veneration of relics by the late antique historian Peter Brown. And he made a statement, something like this, that “you can track the expansion of Christianity in the ancient world by tracking the growth in the veneration relics,” that “the two were coterminous,” that “you couldn’t separate one from the other.” And I began to look into it, and I found out that this is true. Everywhere you go in all the Fathers—Augustine, Jerome, it doesn’t matter who you look at—the veneration of saints, the place of relics in the life of the Church, [were] indistinguishable. I had always viewed this as really almost nauseating to protestant sensibilities. And I found out I wasn’t the only one. There was someone else in the ancient world who also found them nauseating, and that was the pagans. See as evangelicals, we’d been taught that if anything these were something that medieval Catholics had been brought over from the pagan world. And I found out that Julian the Apostate, the pagan Emperor who wanted to reimpose paganism, the thing that really disgusted him about Christianity was the fact that Christians were the fellows that carried around dead bones. Because in paganism, they had always separated the cemetery and the dead from the life of the city. The city was supposed to be under the protection of the gods, and the gods found dead bones very unappealing, and you were going to offend the gods if you brought them into a place of worship. Christians were the opposite.

That shook me. And I thought, “Okay, I’ve really got to examine what is the basis for this. Is there any rationale for this fascination with the dead.” My theological presuppositions had no place for it, but I thought, “what is the reason? What is the rationale?” And as I began to study the question, I realized if I could be openminded about it, there was really a profound reason from a biblical point of view, from a Christian point of view, and even from a devotional point of view, a devotion to Christ, and it was this: Scripture teaches, and the tradition teaches, that the Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus. And in a real sense, when I touch a Christian, I am touching Christ, and even as the sick would touch the body of Jesus and be healed, when I touch Christ in His members, I’m coming into contact with Christ. And when I thought about it, I realized there is a biblical basis for this. First of all, in the Old Testament, in the passage in 2 Kings, when the dead body is thrown into the tomb of Elisha the Prophet, he strikes the dead body of Elisha, [and] comes back to life. [2 Kings 13:21] So we have biblical attestation of the idea of a relic having miraculous powers…And then in the New Testament, of course [Paul], you know, handkerchiefs are touched to Paul, and people are healed and come back to life and so on. [Acts 19:11-12] And I see the same thing happening in the lives and writings of the Fathers. Augustine has a story in the Confessions about discovering the relics of some local Saints in Milan, and the blind go and touch the caskets and receive their sight. [St. Augustine, Confessions (Book 9, Ch. 7)]

But when I saw it in light of this doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, [I] realized the Catholic veneration of saints—it’s not about taking our eyes off Christ. Protestants talk about “we believe in Christ alone, and you Catholics import all this other stuff.” No, no, no. The Catholic faith is so intensely Christocentric that we find Christ in everything, especially in His body, the Church. And suddenly it went from being a disgusting notion to one that had a tremendous beauty to me. It became attractive. I also realized that the protestant view on the dead is that death wins. Death wins. Death creates a curtain, a barrier, a door between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. And the Church in heaven turns its back on us, it doesn’t care about us, it doesn’t know about us, certainly doesn’t pray for us. It has no contact with us. But the Catholic point of view was that one of the reasons we venerate relics [is because] this is a foretaste of the resurrection of the dead. We’re witnessing to our faith that these bones shall again live because they have been joined to Christ. They’ve been placed in union with Christ. And from the Catholic point of view, because of our relationship to the Saints, we rejoice in death, because we know we’ve just gone from better to best, and they haven’t turned their backs on us. They continue to love us, to pray for us, to be in communion with us. And once you have been on the inside of this experience, you know it doesn’t turn you away from Jesus. It enlivens your faith in Christ so tremendously.

THE BIBLE, SOLA SCRIPTURA, AND THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE

At this point, Anders could see that not only what he’d been taught about his own faith, but what he’d been told about the Catholic Church, was false. The next big issue was the Bible itself. He describes it this way:

[33:46] Then I realized there was one more big issue I had to tackle: the Bible, the Bible alone. That was almost the final straw. I’d always been taught, always assumed, any theological question I had, I had to go to the Bible to answer it. The Bible was the final authority. All these other questions made me ask, “Is that true? Sola scriptura—what’s the basis?” So I went back to the sources. I started with Calvin and Luther…What did they say about the Bible? And I realized that for all intents and purposes, the reformers had no defense for sola scriptura. They merely asserted it. They had a few arguments here and there, but they basically were things like, “Well we should listen to the voice of God, not men.” I mean, truisms! Truisms that don’t amount to real argument, that prove nothing. Or, “Jesus condemned tradition when He assaulted the Pharisees and the Rabbis.” But no sustained argumentation in favor of, “okay, we know from a divine authority that the Bible alone is the rule of faith.” Nothing like that really in the reformers.

So I have to move on. So I’m moving to 17th century protestantism, the protestant scholastic theologians and I began to find more argumentation about the Bible. And then of course today, in the 20th century, 21st century, you do find evangelical theologians who realize they finally have to tackle this subject and deal with how do we really know the Bible as the [sole] rule of faith. [I made a] Very big ironic discovery: they appeal to tradition. To justify the notion that the Bible is the sole rule of faith, they appeal to tradition. They find some Church Father who gets in a theological debate and appeals to Scripture. Or they look, believe it or not, at the medieval theologians, or they point to Luther and Calvin, or they point to their own experience. But their main argument in favor of the Bible is an appeal to tradition. Now, some of them nuance by saying, “yes, but this is not Catholic tradition, we’re talking about some other tradition. It’s not the authority of the Pope.” But at the end of the day, they’re appealing to tradition. Some of them have actually recognized the inherent contradiction, and there’s one presbyterian theologian [R.C. Sproul] who has actually said “we don’t have an infallible canon of Scripture. We have a fallible list of infallible books,” which has always struck me, I’m sorry, as absurd. I realized that if you stick with the notion of the Bible alone, there’s no basis for it in history…

You’re thrown back on the texts of Scripture themselves, and the words of Christ Himself, and you have to go back and re-examine. You know, we were always taught, “Well Jesus rejected tradition. Human tradition is terrible, Jesus rejected it, therefore we should reject tradition in favor of Scripture Jesus always appeals to Scripture.” This is the kind of argument we were told. So I go back and look at the way Jesus in fact uses Scripture, and it’s true, Jesus quotes the Old Testament frequently. Does Jesus quote the Old Testament as the final authority, and the sole rule of faith? By no means! By no means! He points to His own authority, as the author of Scripture, and the infallible interpreter of the Old Testament. And on the surface, at times seems to dispense with things in the Old Testament had a time and a place that are no longer relevant—the dietary laws, of course, especially; circumcision; these sorts of things. Now, there’s nothing in the Old Testament itself that justifies that, it’s only the authority of Christ that justifies that. Now, what does He do with that authority? Well, He says to the Apostles, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore you go forth to all nations and teach everything I’ve commanded you, and I will be with you,” a promise of divine assistance, “until the end of the age.” So that authority that Christ had to interpret the Scriptures, to change the legislation of Scripture, to appeal to His own authority—“you heard that it was written, but I say”—He now passes on to the Apostles.

Now, is there anywhere in the words of Christ that he mentions a New Testament [Scripture]? No, of course not. Jesus never mentions the book of Romans, the book of Galatians. While He does refer to individual Old Testament prophets, He never refers to a canon of Scripture.

So where does this notion come from, of a canon? And of course if you study the history, you know. In the early Church, yes, the early Christians revered the writings of the Apostles, they passed them around, they shared them with one another. They found out that they had different lists. They did not all have the same books. So what do they do? They appeal to the authority of the living Magisterium [teaching authority] of the Church. Pope Damasus I, he solicits the help of St. Jerome, Augustine calls a council in north Africa, and the Church Fathers examine the question, and determine what is, and what is not, the Canon. And so the Bible that the protestants appeal to, that they say is the sole rule of Faith, is a product of magisterial authority given to the Church by Jesus Christ. Jesus never says, “the Bible is the rule of Faith.” He gives us the teaching Church as the rule of Faith…If you take that point of view [of R.C. Sproul], if you believe that the Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books—Luther would never use that language, but in effect that’s what he held, because he was willing to throw out books that had been held as canonical before them—you have to conclude that we have no certainty in our rule of faith. Because how do I know, in the final analysis, that Romans is part of the canon? Or that Galatians is part of the canon? Well what if I don’t like Galatians? Can I throw it out like Luther—you know, Luther didn’t like James; Luther didn’t like the deuterocanonical texts—can I throw out Galatians if I don’t like it? There were early heretics like Marcion who did just that. They didn’t like certain books of the Bible, they threw them out. Can I do that also?…What about the letter to Laodicea? Should it be in there? Should we go digging it up and finding it? So, can I have the same certainty, objective certainty, about what is the Christian Faith, that the Apostles had? Can I have the same certainty that the early Church had? They knew what the Christian Faith was. They knew with certainty that Christ taught with divine authority a message from God of how to know Him and be in a relationship with Him. Can I know what that is? Can I know what Jesus said? What He taught? Well, only if He gives me the criteria. Only if Christ says, “here is how you know what I said. Here’s how you know what I teach.” And He doesn’t give us the canon of Scripture. He gives us the teaching Church. So there goes sola scriptura for me. I really have to start considering Catholicism.

THE PAPACY

Recognizing that Catholicism was now fully in play, the next issue Anders studied was the papacy. He recounts it this way:

[41:51] The Bishop of Rome—what about the Bishop of Rome? Here’s what I learned from history. Unanimity, total agreement in the early Church, that Rome is the See of Peter. You don’t find that disputed. No one, even the most anti-papal heretic, no one disputes that Rome is the See of Peter. No one disputes that Rome is the first See, that it the first in the ancient Church of all the Apostolic Sees. Rome is the final court of appeal in theological disputation. You find that very, very early on, Popes are making claims not only to a primacy of honor, but to a primacy of jurisdiction, meaning they claim the right to in fact intervene in the internal affairs of other dioceses, and they claim this as a right emanating from their appointment by Christ as successors of Peter. All these things are on record in the early Church. And then I look at, “well what about the problem of bad Popes? Can I live with the fact that there were bad Popes?” Well what is the Pope’s job description? In the final analysis, it is to keep the Faith united, to guarantee the integrity of the Faith. Has he fulfilled that job description? And the answer is yes. When I look at the sources of the Faith, when I study the Scriptures, when I see the message of salvation that Christ taught, that the Fathers taught, where is that instantiated in the Christian world today? It’s in the Catholic Church. And moreover, the Church continues to provide me with a living Magisterium that doesn’t just guarantee the deposit of the Faith, “once for all delivered to the saints,” (Jude 1:3) but interprets it for me in light of new circumstances—stem-cell research, you know, modern question that couldn’t have been anticipated by the Fathers. I have a living Magisterium speaking with divine authority to interpret that deposit of Faith for me. So there’s not only a historical basis, there’s a practical basis, and I begin to see the beauty of that. While I grieve that there have been bishops and Popes that have made personal mistakes, and sins, and so forth and so on. They’ve maintained their job description, all right? They really have…by the Holy Spirit.

WHAT ABOUT “THE GATES OF HELL WILL NOT PREVAIL” AGAINST THE CHURCH?

The final piece of the puzzle came from Anders further reflecting on Christ’s promise that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church. [Matt. 16:18]. He describes how this final piece of the intellectual puzzle was resolved as follows:

[44:49] So at this point, almost all the pieces are in place. The final intellectual piece in place for me was the realization that Christ had said “the gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church. And I realized that if Luther was right, if Calvin was right, if the protestants were right, then Christ was a liar; that the gates of hell had prevailed, because I had studied the tradition all the way back to the sources, every century, all the Fathers, and there was nothing remotely resembling evangelical protestantism for 1,800 years. And if that was the true faith, then Christ was a liar. But I looked at the Old Testament. You know, the prophets speak about a mountain that will fill the whole earth; a kingdom from sea to sea; all the nations streaming to Jerusalem; the light to the Gentiles. It’s the most glorious vision of the kingdom of God that would come in the Messiah. And Jesus preaches, “the kingdom is here!” This long-awaited divine reality that God had been preparing for all of human history in the entire created universe, and it can’t last for 25 years?! It falls apart as soon as the last Apostle dies?! This isn’t consistent with the view of the glorious kingdom of God that had been the whole theme of Scripture. And I realized if Luther’s right, if Calvin is right, then Christianity can’t be true. But if Christianity is true, and Christ is Lord, then the Catholic Church is the Church He founded. He founded one Church, He gave us one rule of Faith, and it’s in the Catholic Faith.

Believe it or not, this realization, at first, depressed me, because I realized that everything that I had ever thought, or been taught, or held dear, or prayed through, or studied, or trusted, was wrong. And it depressed me, and I went through a period of real struggle and difficulty before I actually entered the Church.

On this last point, I definitely knew what Anders meant. I myself was depressed for several weeks once I realized I would have to become Catholic, and for basically the same reasons.

THE CONTRADICTIONS IN PROTESTANT THEOLOGY, AND THE GLORY OF THE CONFESSIONAL

At this point, Anders was intellectually convinced, but he still didn’t come into the Catholic Church. Gradually, however, what had been a long series of intellectual realizations began to become more emotional and spiritual ones that culminated in his first confession, and reception into the Catholic Church:

[47:06] And this is where the spiritual—I mean all this intellectual stuff led up to it—now the spiritual and the emotional begin to play a role. And the Lord slowly showed me how He wasn’t just satisfying my intellect, but if I would enter the Church, there were deficits in my person, my spiritual life, my moral life, that could not have been healed in protestantism, that would be healed in the Catholic Church. I’ll give you an example. Luther, I believe, was bipolar. This is my personal opinion from studying him. If you’ve read Luther, you know he was always going from extreme to extreme. Depression, elation, depression, elation, God and the devil, you know. And he imported that into his theology. He actually talked about it. He called it his anfechtung [temptation, contesting]. You know, this is a part of the Christian life for him. And he identified that depression with his experience of law and condemnation, and his elation with his belief in justification by faith [alone]. And he taught that this should be a part of the life of every Christian, that you should move from despair to elation. And I found that this is in fact the way protestants operate, because of their peculiar doctrine of salvation. They think, “if I only have faith, I know I’ll be saved.” And then they’re elated. But then comes the inevitable question, “how do I know if I have real faith?” Well the way they define faith is partially experiential. There’s a warming of the heart, there’s an emotional, “I love Christ.” There’s this drawing, there’s a subjective component to what constitutes “real faith.” Well that can always be called into question. And so I have dear family member that struggle sometimes, “Have I had a real faith? Have I had a real conversion?” So they’ll [think], “Oh I have faith, I know I’m saved. Oh, but do I know I have real faith?” So they’re not worried about works, but they still have this doubt and this question. But then the works do play in, because the protestant faith teaches if you’re really saved, well your life will show it. But then they also tell you, “all of your works are hateful to God; no work that you can do merits anything.” So you’ll have works, but works are hateful. But you have faith, but did you have real faith? And so there’s this constant back and forth between these two poles. And I found in the Catholic Church a glorious, brilliant, refreshing objectivity. There’s no doubt about what the Faith is, and there’s no doubt about whether I believe it, because Faith is an assent to what the Church teaches to be revealed by God. You either assent or you don’t. You don’t have to worry about feelings.

And the question of forgiveness. You know, protestants always teach when you’re growing up [that] Catholics are the ones that are supposed to be neurotic, and the confessional is supposed to be the worst place on the planet. This is what we’re taught. This is why Luther was so messed up because he’d been to all those confessions. When I went to my first confession, it was like a shower from heaven. It was the most glorious experience of my entire life. When I heard those words of absolution, when the priest said, “I absolve you from your sins,” and I knew that Christ had said to him, through the Apostles, “whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven,” [John 20:23] He didn’t attach any qualifications. He didn’t say, “well, if you have this emotional experience.” [He simply said] “Whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven,” and if you say, “I’m sorry,” and you mean it, they’re gone! And believing that, because I believed the words of Christ, that first confession, I felt, “this is the most wonderful institution that I have ever seen in my entire life.” So far from creating any kind of neuroticism, it relieved so much internal tension, so much anxiety that I had always grown up with, and it was liberating…The Catholic doctrine of contrition has nothing to do with emotion or feeling. It has to do with a determination that I have done something objectively wrong, and I am deciding to not do it again. Tomorrow I may stumble. But my determination to improve my life, and to turn away from sin, that’s what we call “contrition.” It’s not an emotional thing. And it’s very objective, there’s no doubt about it. It’s very liberating…

Whereas Calvin’s view necessarily led toward a subjunctivization of the Faith, Anders realized the Catholic teaching was much more objective and straightforward—it wasn’t about feelings, but a decision:

[52:15] Calvin had always taught that your final certainty is from this “illumination of the Holy Spirit.” This is how you know that you know that you know. God zaps you. That’s not the Catholic view. Now God does draw us, the Holy Spirit does draw us, but Faith has an intellectual component, and it has a volitional component. At the end of the day, as a Catholic, my belief is an act of my will to say, “I will align my life with what the Catholic Church teaches.” And I don’t have to necessarily feel fireworks, although, they come. And [St.] Thomas [Aquinas] laid out a path for me where I realized I can do this. I can choose to do this. I don’t have to wait around anymore for God to push me in.

And with that, Dr. David Anders, the Calvinist theologian and historian who had devoted his life and career to defending the reformation and disproving Catholicism, decided to become Catholic.

PROTESTANTISM COMES FROM MAN, CATHOLICISM COMES FROM GOD

When asked if he’d like to say anything to a viewer who may be a conservative evangelical presbyterian of his former persuasion, Anders concluded this first interview as follows:

[54:06] How do you know that the Bible is the sole rule of faith? Who told you? Not Jesus. Luther and Calvin told you. Men. Did they tell you with divine authority? No they didn’t. They told you because they wanted an excuse to leave the Catholic Church. Go back and look at Paul again—what does he say about the ethical life, the moral life, justification by faith [alone]. Is it scriptural? It isn’t. From the inside, the Catholic Church is a wonderful place. We’d love to have you.

SECOND INTERVIEW (January 15, 2019)

LUTHER’S DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION NOWHERE IN HISTORY

Let’s proceed to the second interview, on January 15, 2019.

After describing various evangelical beliefs collapsing under the weight of the historical evidence, Anders then addressed the doctrine of justification:

[4:37] The big one for me was justification by faith alone. That was the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls, as I understood it. And what began to open my eyes was reading Augustine, [the] great 4th century Doctor of the Church, 5th century Doctor of the Church, whom the protestants had claimed as their own. And as I began to read him voluminously I realized that Augustine, by golly, he was a Catholic. His understanding of salvation was deeply Catholic; sacramental, moral interior renovation; none of this Lutheran idea of imputed righteousness, or faith alone.

But I also began to find, once I was married and began to have children, not only was the [protestant] doctrine of justification false to history, I eventually discovered it was also false to Scripture too. [It] wasn’t what St. Paul meant by saved by faith and not works of the law. But it was also false to my own experience, because I found that I needed more than faith alone. I desperately needed the renovation of my interior life, and my moral life, and grace, because the conviction that faith alone would save was making me into a bad human being. And the attitude I had had as a child, that I needed to convert or proselytize people who didn’t have the true faith, meant that my orientation towards people was manipulative and exploitive. I was interested in you because you were a mark, someone that I could convert to my understanding of evangelical Christianity. That was actually part of my spirituality, you know? I wasn’t looking for am I charitable, or kind, or patient, or humble—after all, Christians are totally depraved, right? That’s what the reformed presbyterian tradition taught. But do you have the true faith? So it made me a very annoying dinner guest. But it made me a bad husband, and a bad father…

That was a debate in the protestant tradition in the 17th century about how do you know your saved? It is a big issue for them, to know for sure you’re saved. And there were those who said, “well, you can know from these evidences from these moral behaviors that flow from your conversion. And then there were others that said, well, even within puritanism they had this debate, “well, yea, but if you parse that behavior fine enough, you’re going to find the roots of pride and concupiscence and sin. So it’s got to be just this kind of purely subjective illuminative experience. And those two camps went to war, and there’s really no way out of that box, you know? Either you have the presumption of “I’m saved in spite of my bad behavior,” or you despair, you know, because you realize my behavior is so bad that I can’t be saved.” And the Catholic answer was ultimately so much more sensible, and I discovered it in the confessional, that first priest who said to me, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And I recognized that Jesus said if I stick with the sacraments, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me,” I have an objective promise that grace is on offer. And He told me again, “he who perseveres to the end will be saved.” I may not know for sure whether I’m in the state of grace, but I know for sure where grace is to be found. And if I lay hold of that, and stick with that until the end, I will be saved. So better than “absolute certainty,” it gave me the theological virtue of hope. And that was a much sounder basis for living out my Christian life.

THE INABILITY OF SCRIPTURE TO FINALLY DETERMINE CONTROVERSIES AMONG CHRISTIANS

Anders then addressed an issue near and dear to the hearts of many protestant converts: the seemingly endless divisions among protestants, and the inability of Scripture to render a final and binding verdict on controversies among Christians.

He first observed:

[16:20] There is no principled way as a protestant to tell the difference between dogma and opinion. Even if we look at the Bible and disagree, how do we know if that disagreement is substantive or not? No way to know.

Anders then addressed the purpose of the Bible, and the biblical canon:

[18:13] It’s [the Bible] not supposed to be a manual on Church government, or even a dogmatic theology text. A simple investigation of the various components of the Bible tells us what it is. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a very occasional documents dealing with a particular set of problems in one historic church in one time. You know, the Gospels are snapshots of key moments in the life of Christ, and so on, you could analyze each of the texts. None of them is a comprehensive manual on Christian life. Why does the Bible exist? Why did God give us the Bible through the Church? He gave it to us to inform our life of prayer and moral reflection and to edify, but not to be the be-all and end-all to define everything about our Christian life. That was never its function or purpose…And we haven’t even talked about the canon problem. How do you know you have the right list? The protestants have 66 books, we have 73. How do you know it’s 66? Why not 67? How about 40? Even if you go with 73, why not 75? You know, you must advert to tradition, even if you believe in illumination, even if God speaks to you and says, “These books are divine.” Well, maybe there’s an other one I still need. How do you know? Without adverting to tradition, you cannot know with certainty you even have the right list of books.

SAINTS, RELICS, AND OUR LADY

Anders then addressed the issue of saints, relics, and Catholic Marian dogma:

[20:01] Catholic devotion to Saints, not just to Our Lady, but to the Saints and to their relics, was to me the most manifest absurdity. It was the most rank superstition that could serve no purpose, and I was certain that Catholics had brought this into the practice of the Christian Faith from their pagan origins. And that critique is articulated by Calvin, the man that I studied. He wrote a diatribe against relics that was just a parody and a satire of all the most superstitious kind of medieval practices that he could possibly lampoon. So that was my mindset.

But in my dissertation work, I was really studying Calvin’s critique of late medieval Catholicism, and it forced me to dig deeper into the history of these Catholic devotions and spiritual practices. And as I read more deeply, especially in the ancient Church, one of the things that struck me was that you could not find a layer of Christian practice in which there was no devotion to the Saints. It didn’t matter if you were looking at popular spirituality, or the most elite and refined theologians, it didn’t matter if you looked in the east or the west, the north or the south, Latin, Greek, Syriac, Coptic, wherever you went throughout the world, you found this practice. There’s a passage in St. Jerome’s letter against Vigilantius, when he says—Jerome of course is a 4th century doctor of the Church—he says, “Does the Bishop of Rome do wrong? Does he do wrong when he offers the Holy Sacrifice (he’s talking about the mass) over the bones of the martyrs Peter and Paul, and not the Bishop of Rome only, but all the bishops throughout the world?” [St. Jerome, Against Vigilantius (§8)] That’s what we call catholicity, the universality of the practice. And I realized studying that if I wish to claim any continuity with the ancient Church, I may not reject devotion to the Saints and their relics.

So this is the practice. How then can I make sense of it? Is there a theology that makes sense of this? And of course there is. The doctrine of the communion of Saints, that we really are Christ in a mystical sense, we are His body. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that we have become God’s co-laborers as if Christ was making His appeal through us. We become members of Christ’s body, the Church. He He who beholds the Church beholds Christ! That’s what St. Gregory of Nyssa says. And we see [it] manifest in Scripture that Jesus chooses to manifest His grace to the world through these broken material instruments…And I began to see, yes, if I regard these not as pagan gods, as objects to be worshipped, but as instruments of grace, participating in that work of redemption as members of Christ’s body, the Church, all of a sudden my moral imagination, my universe of friendship has opened up. It’s not merely the Church on earth with which I’m in fellowship. It’s the Church triumphant in heaven, that great cloud of witnesses that Hebrews talks about, or Revelation 5, those twenty-four elders offering up the prayers of the Church on earth before the throne of God as incense. And suddenly it became a beautiful picture of a deeper communion with Jesus, and I said, “it’s biblical, it’s historical, it’s also rational, and it’s edifying. I can accept that.” And once I was able to wrap my head around the communion of saints, putting Our Lady into that picture, I already had a conceptual in which She made sense. And Her eminent sanctity as the one “full of grace,” the Theotokos, the Mother of God, made Her elevation above that company of saints quite reasonable to me…

WHY PROTESTANTS DON’T UNDERSTAND VENERATION OF SAINTS

Anders then made a very compelling point about why protestants often do not understand the Catholic veneration of saints, drawing on a point made by a 19th century American convert, Orestes Brownson:

[24:49] [Orestes] Brownson makes a brilliant observation. He says the reason that protestants reject devotion to saints is because they have rejected the notion of sacrifice, and so they don’t know the difference between worship and veneration. Worship, the honor due to Almighty God, is sacrifice. St. Paul says, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices. This is your spiritual act of worship.” The centerpiece of Catholic worship is the Holy Sacrifice of the mass, the offering of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus to God the Father in reparation for the sins of the world. That’s worship. To salute the flag is just veneration. But protestants threw out the idea of sacrificial worship. They threw out the sacrifice of the mass. And so for them there is no distinction between an act of worship and an act of veneration…If you look at the canon of the mass—this is the prayer in which the priest consecrates the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist—the saints come alongside us as partners in this sublime act of worship offering this one sacrifice. The whole Church in heaven and on earth offering Jesus to God the Father. The saints don’t appear in the mass as recipients of veneration or worship, but as participants in that…

EVANGELICALISM HAS DEVOLVED INTO GNOSTICISM

Anders then addressed what he believes has become the fate of modern evangelicalism—its descent into Gnosticism, compared with Catholicism’s profoundly physical, and embodied nature:

[29:16] The tradition I grew up in, I would really describe it as Gnostic, the ancient second century heresy of Gnosticism. The Gnostics were people who believed that you could attain salvation through an act of intellection—like what’s in your head, what you know about reality—somehow clicks something in the divine economy so that when you die you’re zapped out of this evil, material world to a better place. That is very similar to the [evangelical] tradition I was raised in. Its most gross expression could be reduced to the idea that repeating a mantra, reciting a formula, the sinner’s prayer—“Jesus come into my heart”—that phrase somehow locks you into the divine economy and you’re guaranteed salvation. Now the problem with that view—there are so many problems with that view—is that it really reduces our material life to absurdity. Of what value then, this material life—this life of marriage, family, children, and society—if it’s essentially disconnected from eternity? It is of no ultimate value, except as a realm in which to encounter this Gnostic information. And so what do you do with it? What do you do with your 80 years on earth if you pray to receive Christ when you’re 7, and nothing you can do can dislodge that—and that was the teaching, right? You’re guaranteed salvation—what do you do with the next 73 years of your life? It’s easy to fall into a kind of amoralism, to be antinomian [“against law”]…It’s very thin theology, and it’s a very banal way to live one’s life, because life is a rich and textured, many-faceted thing with enormous beauty and pathos and horror and pain. It’s an amazing panoply of experiences. Of what meaning and value are these if the only thing I can do of eternal value is to convert another soul, or myself be converted?…I began to see I needed more things than just faith alone. I needed the renovation of my interior life in charity. I needed the virtues…Now the answer is a grace that actually changes my embodied experience of the world, and it’s a grace that comes to me through embodied and material media, especially through the sacraments. And the sacraments, we must remember, they’re more than signs and symbols, but they are signs and symbols that come with a promise of efficacy. Jesus says if you engage in this ritual, this sign, this symbol, I will give you the grace that is being figured or symbolized therein…

[37:20] You know, one of the things that I love about the Catholic Church in its physical, embodied reality, is that, you know, we don’t split up just because we disagree. And when you go to mass, you’ll be there with people of a different political persuasion, people who even have allowable differences of theology—and yes, Catholics do have some allowable differences in theology—you know, personalities, temperaments…But we’re united around Christ in the sacraments. That’s a tremendous gift.

THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE OF REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING

Anders then addressed the Catholic doctrine of redemptive suffering (there is no “prosperity gospel” in the Catholic Church!):

[43:32] How are we saved? We’re saved, the Catholic Church teaches, by imitating Christ, but not in a moralistic way. Not like looking at a famous person and seeing his virtues and saying, “I want to be like that when I grow up.” But really, by seeking to live Christ’s divine life after Him. He died on the cross and rose again, I died with Him in baptism and rise again with Him. He sacrificed Himself for His Church, I sacrifice myself for my spouse. Reliving these divine mysteries of Jesus’s life in the sacraments, trusting that the Holy Spirit will make them fruitful in my life, and really will rebuild in me what I lost in Adam, namely, to be in the likeness and image of God, holding onto His mercy, believing that it’s only by grace alone—and grace alone is a Catholic doctrine, though I cooperate grace—and in that way I can be saved. But part of that imitation of Christ, Jesus Himself tells us is, you must take up your cross and follow me…

THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD WORKS

Then the perennial issue between Catholics and protestants—good works:

[49:20] Jesus talks about them [good works] over and over again. He says if you pray in public to be seen by men, that’s it—you get your reward in full. If you give alms in public to be seen by men, that’s it—you got the whole thing. But if you do these things in secret, pray, fast, give alms, your Father who sees in secret will reward you. This is God’s condescension to us, that aided by grace, He really does create within us those works that He then rewards. St. Augustine says, “God, you crown your own gifts in us.” It’s beautiful, because then the life that I live does have meaning. The question of, “what about this mortal life—of what meaning or value is it?” St. Thomas Aquinas says that any good deed done in the state of grace merits an eternal reward, by God’s condescension. That’s the way it works in the divine economy. So even, you help your child with her homework for the sake of the love of God, and you can merit your salvation by grace. You love your wife, you express repentance and extend forgiveness, you reconcile enemies, you hunger and thirst for righteousness—God will reward these things in your life. And if we’re following Christ, then we will be living this kind of way. Now we have to temper that with St. Dismas, thief on the cross. Now he did a lot of good work, St. Dismas. He confessed Christ, he made an act of humility, he made an act of faith, he had courage. But he didn’t have an opportunity to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, because he’s nailed up on a cross. But he said, “Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me when you come into your kingdom.” And he’s the first canonized saint in the Catholic Church.

LUTHER’S INCOHERENT DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION

Anders then explained how Luther’s approach to justification was totally incoherent:

[52:19] I was reading an article once by the Dominican theologian Thomas Joseph White, who was talking about the Lutheran doctrine of justification. And he clarified a point for me, he framed it so concisely, that in Lutheranism, in Luther’s theology, a man can be justified, reconciled to God, while he remains at enmity with God in his will. And that’s true, that’s the Lutheran doctrine…From the Catholic point of view, the idea that I can be in loving union with you, and hate you at the same time, is incoherent. Salvation means that I have friendship with God. The idea that I can have friendship with God, and yet hate God, makes no sense at all, because love is a desire to be in union. Now if I love God truly, I’m going to love His image wherever I find it. And so I’m going to love my neighbor, because God’s image is imprinted on my neighbor. And I’m even going to love all created being in a proportionate way. I’m going to love the world that God created because it’s good.

THIRD INTERVIEW (February 5, 2019)

FROM THE APOSTLES—TO LUTHER? THE 1,500 YEAR PROTESTANT GAP

Anders’s third interview, which was done alongside Ken Hensley—a former baptist pastor—was likewise brimming with arguments that were very difficult to refute.

One of the main topics he addressed was the 1,500 gap between the Apostles and Luther that often went unaddressed by protestants. He also confronted the protestant argument that the Gospel was “lost” because of the Roman Popes:

[18:56] There’s a standard answer to that question [why the 1,500 gap?] within protestant polemics, and the standard answer is that the papacy buried the gospel under a lot of superstitious smoke, largely in exercise of self-aggrandizement; that the ambition of the popes of Rome had smothered the gospel under a host of manmade traditions. There are a lot of reasons why that view of history is false. But one of them is that it’s evident if you look around the ancient Christian world—not everyone recognized the authority of the Pope in antiquity, and even those who did sometimes were removed from him geographically such that the Pope couldn’t exercise effective jurisdiction over churches in far-flung corners of the empire, except you know maybe by a correspondence that could take centuries to play out.

So if the reformers’ thesis was true, if Catholic tradition is really kind of the aggression of the Roman hierarchy to suppress the gospel, we should expect to find in communities remote from the Pope something that looks like Lutheranism. If protestantism naturally flows forth from the pages of Scripture, we should find protestantism flourishing wherever there’s an absence of Catholicism. And in fact what you find is something very different. If you go look in ancient Persia, or southern India, or Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, north Africa (well north Africa was Roman), Arabia, these places in the world that were remote from direct Roman influence, you find nothing remotely similar to Lutheranism, nothing remotely similar to Calvinism! And it puts the lie to this Calvinist thesis that the protestant religion just sort of spontaneously emerges out of the Bible.

No, protestantism emerged in a very specific time and place: Saxony, Europe, northern Europe, in the early 16th century for reasons that were highly particular, and very, very related to that social context. It’s not the natural outgrowth of the Bible. It’s the natural outgrowth of that particular historical era.

Marcus Grodi, the interviewer, mentioned that his protestant colleagues often claimed that the contents of the Christian faith were simply what had been passed down through the ages to the most people, somewhat democratically, etc. David Anders responds:

[28:33] Well if that’s the case, if truth is found by the consensus of Christian people down through the era, then we must certainly throw out Lutheranism, because if there’s one thing that’s evident in the ancient Church, no one in the ancient Church—they may have disagreed about the Trinity, which they did in fact, they had debates about the Trinity, about the two natures of Christ, about all kinds of issues—one thing that no one in antiquity disputed, no one disputed that we are saved through the renovation of our moral life. I don’t care where you were on the Christian spectrum, in what heretical group, everybody believed that you had to have your interior life renovated morally in order to be saved.

ON JUSTIFICATION, THE ANCIENT CHURCH’S MYSTICAL DOCTRINE OF SALVATION, AND THE RENOVATION OF THE MORAL LIFE

Anders next proceeded to the ancient Church’s doctrine of salvation, which flatly contradicted protestant ideas on justification:

[33:57] McGrath [protestant Anglican author of Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification] makes the point that prior to Augustine, there’s no really developed doctrine of justification in the Church, and that’s true. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a developed doctrine of salvation…There was a very well articulate doctrine, just not in the terms that Paul gives us in Romans and Galatians. It was other Pauline texts, and other mystical texts that framed it. We find it in Irenaeus, all the way back in the second century, who says that we regain in Christ what we lost in Adam, namely, to be made in the image and likeness of God. And St. Athanasius the Great says that “God became man that men might become God.” [St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word (Ch. 54, §3)] So the idea of a mystical renovation of the human person after the likeness and image of Jesus, through the sacraments in which we died with Him in baptism, and are raised again with Him to new life, and then the whole legal and sacramental framework of the Church presupposes the life of grace and moral renovation. That’s what the disciplinary structure was there to enforce, that if you fall away from the practice of morality, you would be excommunicated and have to do your lengthy penance in order to come back again…They’re [these ideas] are all very explicit in the tradition. Prior to Augustine, people read St. Paul as if he was talking about what he actually said he was talking about. What was Paul talking about in those texts? How are Jews and Gentiles to get along, and how should Gentiles relate to the Mosaic law. And so prior to Augustine, Christians who were Gentiles by birth picked that up and go, “Oh well, we got that one figured out. We don’t have to follow Mosaic law. Okay, next!” And so they didn’t really exegete Paul for a unique doctrine of salvation. And Augustine’s contribution—and to some extent, maybe a deformation, a little bit—was to read the doctrine of justification as if it were a catch-all for the doctrine of salvation. And so he imports a theological sense to that word that may have sort of a wider valence than Paul himself intended. And McGrath draws that out. He admits that. You know, when I read Augustine, and I found that he was a Catholic—and it scared the pants off of me—I said, “I’ll read deeper into the tradition and see if maybe it gets better [more protestant] when I go earlier.” But what I found were a set of controversies not about justification, but about morality and salvation that were so much more frightening to me, and the biggest was the doctrine of the second repentance…We find it in the Shepherd of Hermas, we find it in Clement of Alexandria, we find it in Tertullian. The question is—and Justin Martyr alludes to it—can a baptized Christian sin and expect to stay within the Church? And there was a strong presumption by many, that “no,” once you were baptized, you might get one shot. But there was an expectation of a serious change of life, and Tertullian…ultimately left the Church because the Pope said, “You know what, Jesus said seventy times seven. We’re going to forgive you even if you’re an adulterer, or a murderer,” and Tertullian couldn’t handle that, so he split. But again, the presumption was that reconciliation with the Church is a juridical act that the Pope and the bishops have the authority given to them by Christ to absolve your sin, and readmit you to fellowship. But the principle of fellowship was a renovated moral life and charity. You had to live a holy life in order to commune. That’s why viaticum, reception of Holy Communion, is so important, because it’s the bond of my visible unity with the Church. And those that were outside the Church through penance had to be reconciled to Holy Communion before they died.

He also addressed how profoundly Luther had departed from the ancient Christian faith:

[43:14] The things that motivated Augustine in particular were not the questions that motivated Luther…Luther was motivated by his anfechtung, his neurotic fear of sin and guilt and damnation, and he takes that as a lens that he imposes on the entire tradition, makes that the normative framework for thinking about Christian life. All you have to do is read widely enough and you’ll know that all Christians have a consciousness of sin, but not like Luther did, you know? And they’re animated by a whole different set of questions, and all the Church Fathers were. You just don’t find that kind of tormented Lutheran conscience anywhere in antiquity. Yes you can excise texts here or there, and bend them to suit your polemical purposes. But it’s false to any claim of continuity with antiquity.

THE CATHOLIC FAITH ISN’T JUST TRUE—IT’S GOOD

Anders then concluded on what he discovered to be the fundamental goodness of Catholic teaching:

[50:16] We keep talking about how we know the truth of Christ. But even after I became persuaded that protestantism was not historical, and the Catholic Church was, there was the added benefit that the truth I found in the Catholic Church was salutary! It answered questions in my life that my protestantism did not answer, and it solved problems for me that I couldn’t get solved in protestantism. And it changed my life in a way protestantism was not changing it. So it’s true, but it’s also good.

THE INCALCULABLE IMPACT OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE WORLD

He concluded with a reflection on the profound and unequaled impact of the Catholic Church on the world:

[51:21] You know, people sometimes ask me, “How can you be in a Church that has so many problems? You know, corruption, this or that cleric or bishop doesn’t pat down.” I said, “Look, I became Catholic after I studied the medieval Church for ten years. I wasn’t surprised by clerical corruption, I was surprised by clerical holiness. And, you don’t judge the Church in a singular individual, unless they’re a saint. I think there are two ways you can evaluate it. One is you can look to the saints, those who really did cooperate with the full measure of grace, and you see the fruit of the Catholic life well-lived. That’s all the proof you need. But then you can also look at the course of the Church, not in a single person, but in the course of history down through the ages. And I challenge anyone—read Tom Wood’s How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, for example—to see the imprint of Catholicism on world history. The dignity of the human person evolving into a doctrine of human rights. The adoption of revelation and reason developing into the modern university and the scientific method. Look how it has affected canon law, its imprint in civil codes, and principles of justice and fair dealing and civil society. Take one aspect after another in modern culture that we value, [and] you’re going to find the roots of those things that we value in the Catholic tradition, working its way like leaven in dough throughout the course of all of human history. I want to be part of that stream! You cut yourself off from that stream, it’s back to barbarism.

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