As Catholics, a key quote we like to throw around to demonstrate the error of Protestantism is by St. John Henry Cardinal Newman: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”
Yes, everyone is familiar with this quote to a degree.
You may have heard it floating around or even at a debate. But why is this even important?
During my conversion process to Catholic Christianity, I took this verse as a challenge.
“Ok, Cardinal Newman. You said the early church will somehow stop my beliefs. Well, so be it. I’m ready!”
Boy, did I not see the conversion around the corner.
My biggest grievance with “Roman” Catholicism had to be the lack of historical continuity. From the New Testament to the present day, I didn’t see the link. So, I started where any amateur history buff would: the early church fathers.
I read quotes from the 2nd century to the 7th century from various Eastern and Western theologians that were stunning.
For example, I didn’t see the 19th century fully defined dogma for the Immaculate Conception, but at its earliest/developmental stages, I saw countless quotes in ancient traces.
For instance, St. Ephraim the Syrian, Doctor of the Church, stated:
“You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is neither blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?” (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 [A. D. 361]).
Although we wouldn’t get an official definition and declaration until 1854, we can see traces of the Immaculate Conception with the sentence “neither blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother.” This is because she was without blemish or stain because of her full gift of grace from God!
This sort of early development didn’t bother me because many beliefs, like original sin and Trinity, were definitely present in the early centuries or Sacred Scripture but took time to formulate into a fine definition by the Church in her infancy stage.
Moreover, this quote from St. Ephraim the Syrian would support the biblical understanding of the greeting to Mary in Luke 1:28.
The deeper investigation of the text reveals the translation “full of grace” to be the Greek past present tense kecharitōmenē which according to Fr. Charles Grondin, ‘The action of giving grace has already occurred. It was not something that was about to happen to her but something that has already been accomplished.”
Maturity of the Church
In recent years, Trent Horn, Catholic Answers staff apologist, wrote a book called Why We’re Catholic. He describes the Church today not resembling the past similar to a baby photo:
“How can today’s Catholic Church with all of its traditions and rituals be the same humble Church we read about in the New Testament?” It’s a good question, but it’s sort of like asking, “How can that fully grown man be the same little boy whose diaper had to be changed decades earlier?” In both cases, the body being described grew and developed over time without becoming a different kind of being. “
That resonated with me. When I viewed the Catholic Church, I wasn’t looking at an extremely new institution but one that maintained its core while maturing.
Since I opened myself completely to God’s direction without reservation, when I examined early church theologians, Catholicism made total sense.
It’s fascinating how St. John Henry Newman’s quote applied to me and my conversion.
Now, if more people would allow the Fathers to diminish their understanding of Christianity, perhaps more converts would be In Rome.
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