Dr. Francis Beckwith—who was raised Catholic, then became Pentecostal/Evangelical in his teens, then returned to the Catholic Church a few years ago—has penned an essay, "Reformation Day – and What Led Me To Back to Catholicism". It is a pithy and direct reflection, he writes, on one of "the puzzles that led me back to the Church of my youth", specifically, "the relationship between the Church, Tradition, and the canon of Scripture. As a Protestant, I claimed to reject the normative role that Tradition plays in the development of Christian doctrine. But at times I seemed to rely on it":
For example, on the content of the biblical canon – whether the Old Testament includes the deuterocanonical books (or “Apocrypha”), as the Catholic Church holds and Protestantism rejects. I would appeal to the exclusion of these books as canonical by the Jewish Council of Jamnia (A.D. 90-100) as well as doubts about those books raised by St. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, and a few other Church Fathers.
My reasoning, however, was extra-biblical. For it appealed to an authoritative leadership that has the power to recognize and certify books as canonical that were subsequently recognized as such by certain Fathers embedded in a tradition that, as a Protestant, I thought more authoritative than the tradition that certified what has come to be known as the Catholic canon. This latter tradition, rejected by Protestants, includes St. Augustine as well as the Council of Hippo (A.D. 393), the Third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397), the Fourth Council of Carthage (A.D. 419), and the Council of Florence (A.D. 1441).
His fine essay brought to mind a passage from Monsignor Ronald Knox's little classic, The Belief of Catholics, first published in 1927, which helped me, many years ago, get a better sense of some of the key historical and logical problems found within Protestantism. Here is that passage, from the chapter, "Where Protestantism Goes Wrong":
For three centuries the true issue between the two parties was obscured, owing to the preposterous action of the Protestants in admiring Biblical inspiration. The Bible, it appeared, was common ground between the combatants, the Bible, therefore, was the arena of the struggle; from it the controversialist, like David at the brook, must pick up texts to sling at his adversary. In fact, of course, the Protestant had no conceivable right to base any arguments on the inspiration of the Bible, for the inspiration of the Bible was a doctrine which had been believed, before the Reformation, on the mere authority of the Church; it rested on exactly the same basis as the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Protestantism repudiated Transubstantiation, and in doing so repudiated the authority of the Church; and then, without a shred of logic, calmly went on believing in the inspiration of the Bible, as if nothing had happened! Did they suppose that Biblical inspiration was a self-evident fact, like the axioms of Euclid? Or did they derive it from some words of our Lord? If so, what words? What authority have we, apart from that of the Church, to say that the Epistles of Paul are inspired, and the Epistle of Bamabas is not? It is, perhaps, the most amazing and the most tragic spectacle in the history of thought, the picture of blood flowing, fires blazing, and kingdoms changing hands for a century and a half, all in defence of a vicious circle.
The only logic which succeeded in convincing the Protestants of their fallacy was the logic of facts. So long as nobody except scoffers and atheists challenged the truth of the scriptural narratives, the doctrine of inspiration maintained its curiously inflated credit. Then Christians, nay, even clergymen, began to wonder about Genesis, began to have scruples about the genuineness of 2 Peter. And then quite suddenly, it became apparent that there was no reason why Protestants should not doubt the inspiration of the Bible; it violated no principle of their system. The Evangelicals protested, but theirs was a sentimental rather than a reasoned protest; the Tractarians fulmmated, but it was plain this was mere summer lightning, a reflection from the Seven Hills. Only the condemnation of Colenso stands as monument of the bloodless victory of Modernism. For three centuries the inspired Bible had been a handy stick to beat Catholics with; then it broke in the hand that wielded it, and Protestantism flung it languidly aside.
I do not mean, of course, that modern Protestants do not affirm, and affirm sincerely, their belief in Biblical inspiration of some sort. But if you examine the affirmation, you will find that the whole meaning of the term has changed; it was once a literal inspiration that was acknowledged, now it is only a literary inspiration. If you need tangible proof of this, you have only to consider the amount of literary flattery which is lavished upon certain Biblical authors by modern scholarships; how they belaud the fierce independence of Amos, the profound spiritual insight of St. Paul. It was all one to our great-grandfathers; Amos, for them, was no more of a figure than Habacuc, or Paul than the author of the Apocalypse; what did it matter? It was all inspired.
The consequences of this change in the Protestant attitude towards Scripture did not become apparent at once. In the days of Westcott and Lightfoot, in the days of Salmon, the impression left on the public was that it did not matter much whether the Bible was inspired, because in any case it was true. Westcott said so, and who more likely to know than Westcott? Salmon said so; and he was not the man to commit himself to a rash judgment. The prevailing tone in English scholarship remained conservative, at least so far as the New Testament was concerned; books were still attributed to their traditional authors, their integrity was maintained in defiance of the innovators, legend was not allowed to obtrude itself as a hypothesis. If we kept to Codex Vaticanus we should be all right.
In our time, we are beginning to reap the whirlwind. Even men of moderate opinions will not, to-day, vouch for the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel; will not quote the threefold invocation of Matthew xxviii. 19 as certainly representing the views of the apostolic age; will not attach any importance to the story of our Lord's Ascension. And these things are done in the green tree; what of the dry? If these are the hesitations which Protestantism cultivates, what of those it tolerates? We have seen in our time Oxford--the Oxford that flamed with controversy over the case of Dr. Hampden--vaguely discussing whether anything could be done about a clergyman who denied the Resurrection.
For more about Knox (himself a former Anglican), The Beliefs of Catholics and some of Knox's other books, visit his Ignatius Insight Author Page:
Related Ignatius Insight Articles:
• Why Catholicism Makes Protestantism Tick: Louis Bouyer on the Reformation | Mark Brumley
• Has The Reformation Ended? | An Interview with Dr. Mark Noll
• Evangelicals and Catholics In Conversation, Part 1 | Interview with Dr. Brad Harper
• Evangelicals and Catholics In Conversation, Part 2 | Interview with Dr. Brad Harper
• Thomas Howard and the Kindly Light | IgnatiusInsight.com
• Objections, Obstacles, Acceptance: An Interview with J. Budziszewski | IgnatiusInsight.com
• Thomas Howard on the Meaning of Tradition | IgnatiusInsight.com
• Surprised by Conversion: The Patterns of Faith | Peter E. Martin
• Reformation 101: Who's Who in the Protestant Reformation | Geoffrey Saint-Clair
• The Tale of Trent: A Council and and Its Legacy | Martha Rasmussen