Peter Kreeft and The Church's Common Ground: Returning to the Roots

Photo Credit: Abigail Jennings

Photo Credit: Abigail Jennings

In the season of Lent, and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this October, the state of the Church’s stability is undeniably relevant. Last week, The Publius Society opened a conversation between Catholics and Protestants with esteemed expert Peter Kreeft, titled, “What Catholics & Protestants Can Learn from Each Other.” As a Christian who “converted” to Catholicism, Kreeft shared his wisdom about Catholicism and Protestantism both with a reflection on history and testimony of his personal experience.

Instead of focusing on the theological differences between Catholics and Protestants, Kreeft focused the conversation on the status quo. While previous generations have damned each other, Kreeft highlighted the new shift in the relationship about unity.

“Attaining personal unity may be more important [than agreeing on doctrines,]" Kreeft said. “You cannot be a Christian without longing for the reunion of all.”

If this relational unity is on the mend, then what are the remaining barriers? Kreeft’s proposition is that one barrier is pride. This is also one of the prominent reasons Kreeft believes that there has been division for the past 500 years in the first place. And now, as Protestants and Catholics are moving forward with a little more love towards each other, Kreeft gave the illustration that we are like a tree.

“Instead of growing more branches on the tree, we’ve turned the clock back. [We’ve] return[ed] to the sources, the common trunk of the tree, out of humility and not arrogance," Kreeft stated. “Exploring the origin and use of language, both sides [have been] saying the same thing … a return to the sources resulted in the insight that scripture uses Lutheran and Catholic language.”

Differences aside, Kreeft reminded the audience about our unity from what Paul describes in Ephesians: one body, one Spirit, one Hope, one Faith, and one baptism. Of course, questions and concerns about the differences in orthodoxy and orthopraxy, which Kreeft did address specifically considering salvation and faith.

“Depend[s] on what you mean by ‘saved’ and depends on what you mean by ‘faith.’ [This] cannot only be knowledge. [It] must also come from soul, your will," Kreeft suggested. 

A member of the audience asked how Catholics and Protestants share the “same roots,” since the previous 500 years indicate otherwise. Kreeft answered by continuing his illustration how.

“The assumption [has been], if we get the branches right, we’ll know which tree is right. The branches are still there, but the main problem is solved—there’s one trunk. Not a change in doctrine, and not that we’ve all been stupid, we’ve just returned to the sources. Instead of moving up, we’ve moved down," Kreeft responded.

But then what is to be done about the different affiliations? “Should Christians aim for convergence," as a member from the audience asked.

“Both yes and no. clearly the will of Christ is unity. But, that can’t be our fundamental end. We can’t instrumentalize him, even in order to attain unity. We obey his will in order to attain unity," Kreeft advised.

And so, time can heal — if Catholics and Protestants let it. Though seasons change and new questions now arise, such as the meaning of unity with technological advances that propose a new kind of “community,” perhaps the perspective is more clear. Perhaps Catholics and Protestants have confused the bark for the trunk — the sum for the whole. Perhaps there is more in common than one thinks, if Christians would but cease stepping up on soap boxes. Instead, to step down to the ground may be the means to finding out how much there is in common.

Campus, CultureAnne Carman