Protestants Need a Dose of Catholicism

This Opinion piece is meant to be read alongside "Catholics Should Learn from Protestants"

 Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter's Square on Pentecost Sunday | Photo by Bernadette Berdychowski

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter's Square on Pentecost Sunday | Photo by Bernadette Berdychowski

Protestantism needs a dose of Catholicism. I say this not in an effort to reprimand Protestants, but rather to draw attention to some of the beautiful practices of the Catholic church. It is difficult to put a finger on the Protestant church and what each denomination needs, but, as a Protestant myself, I realize that it can be easy to put Catholicism into a box and stereotype its followers for “worshipping Mary” or “praying to saints”.

After attending Baptist, CMA, and Presbyterian churches, I found some common gaps in my understanding of my faith. It was the study of Catholicism and philosophy that filled in these gaps.

I would propose that we ought not protest as often as our name suggests. So often we forget that unity is eschatological; both Catholics and Protestants will participate in marriage to Christ. I remember taking Introduction to Roman Catholicism, a class with Dr. Peter Kreeft and four other students. I had never learned the dogma of the Catholic Church; I had only absorbed bits and pieces from my Baptist childhood. Catholics were cannibals who believed in “fictional” purgatory, I was taught. But Dr. Kreeft spoke for three hours every Wednesday on the nitty-gritty details of Catholicism—his favorite subject, I’m sure. I had never been so excited for Wednesday classes.

In Dr. Kreeft’s class, I honed in on two areas of Catholicism that my upbringing neglected: appreciation of beauty and intellectual rigor. At King’s we tend to have a fairly adequate understanding of these disciplines after taking classes, engaging with professors, and learning from students of other backgrounds. Yet, I’ve also been accused of intellectualizing my faith when I pursue philosophical answers to these uniquely Christian questions. So where is the balance? I think the balance is found in legitimizing, in our own Protestant minds and churches, the practices of a tradition that intentionally seeks these answers.

Beauty is not just a Catholic concept but a Christian one. It is, after all, a universal, a form to which the physical is constantly adhering and striving to adhere.

Protestants often forget the beauty that is inherent to the Christian faith. We long for the simple, non-grandiose type of religion. To me, this seems dangerous. I don’t mean that we ought to value Instagram aesthetics more, but that we should consider all things—aesthetic and emotional alike—for Christ. Beauty is not just a Catholic concept but a Christian one. It is, after all, a universal, a form to which the physical is constantly adhering and striving to adhere. Medieval cathedrals seem like desperate—yet inexplicably ornate—attempts to show the type of place fit to house the presence of Christ. Too often, Protestants ascribe to a “me and my Bible” mindset and  ignore the physical element of our faith. I know I’ve been guilty of this.

My Christian and Missionary Alliance church back home has a surprisingly large library for such a small church. What is even more surprising is the lack of seminal works from any theologian or philosopher prior to the twentieth century. Instead, the shelves are lined with Christian romance novels and pop theologians writing books on how Christianity is a relationship and not a religion. What we often times lack is a understanding Biblical interpretation and the origin of our doctrine. We tend  to claim the doctrinal results of thinkers like Augustine, Scotus, or Aquinas and rebrand them as Protestant beliefs when, in fact, these ideas were born in the medieval, Catholic church. We ought to consider the intellectual tenacity that brought about such an enriching tradition.

We need to remember that our tradition is not our own. We share a rich history with those who went before us, and we owe it to our fellow believers to study and appreciate our similarities and differences.

The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College

OpinionDamaris Parry