Delving into the Protestant’s Dilemma

An interview with author and apologist Devin Rose about how the Reformation’s consequences point to the truth of Catholicism

During the Lenten season Catholics devote special time for prayer, penance, and acts of charity in preparation for Easter. However, a sometimes overlooked—yet integral—part of this liturgical season is that it’s also a special and important time for candidates preparing to convert to Catholicism at the Easter Vigil.

In 2001, Devin Rose underwent that same process and today he’s an active Catholic apologist, specializing in answering Protestant objections to Catholicism. His new book, The Protestant’s Dilemma: How the Reformation’s Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism (Catholic Answers, 2014), offers a catechetical style manual that addresses common Protestant critiques with insightful and accessible explanations.

Recently, Catholic World Report spoke with Rose about his new book.

CWR: Your own personal journey from Protestantism to Catholicism began as you considered the fact that Catholics have seven more books in our Bible than Protestants do. Why would this really matter?

Rose: It matters because the doctrines we believe in come from the Scriptures, God’s revelation. If we are missing books, we will be either omitting doctrines or erring on doctrines because we lack part of the divine revelation that God gave to us. If we include spurious books that God did not inspire, we will mistake mere human ideas for divine truth and err that way.

Knowing the canon of Scripture with ironclad certainty is essential in both the Catholic and Protestant paradigms.

CWR: Protestants, as you note, strongly reject the papacy because they see it as granting power and privilege to one man. Is the papacy really biblical, and if so, do we really need it?

Rose: The papacy is biblical. However, like many truths of our Faith, the Holy Spirit has deepened the Church’s understanding of these truths over the centuries. So we don’t find exhaustive explanations of, say, papal primacy in the Bible. Instead we find actions done and promises made by Christ that only make sense if God established St. Peter and his successors as the principle of unity of His Church. We need it because God decided we needed it.

CWR: Many Protestants still adhere to the Nicene Creed that affirms belief in “One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Have they simply changed the meaning of these four marks of the church or are we in agreement here?

Rose: They have changed the meaning, emptying it of a substantial portion of its original intent. Protestants believe the Church is an invisible collection of believers, without any earthly head, without most of the sacraments, without unity in the fullness of the truth. The Catholic Church retains the original meaning: she is one and apostolic because she was founded on the foundation of the Apostles, with their successors as her rightful leaders, bound by the sacraments. She is holy because Christ sanctifies her.

CWR: Within Protestantism there are tens of thousands of denominations, meanwhile the Catholic Church claims to be the one true Church with infallible teachings on matters of faith and morals. How can a Church led by fallen, sinful men make such an audacious claim? Isn’t the Protestant position an exercise in humility?

Rose: It is only by God’s design and power that His Church has been preserved from error in her doctrines. Left to our own devices, we would go astray very quickly. The Church’s unchanging teachings over almost two thousand years are strong evidence of God’s divine guidance. Protestants don’t claim infallibility, yet in practice they act as if they are infallible, with their pastors standing before the congregations every Sunday saying “This is what the Bible means.” Yet their statements are human opinion, so they are presenting mere opinion as divine truth.  

CWR: Catholics are often criticized—or at the very least, misunderstood—for our teachings on the saints, our devotion to Mary, the doctrine of purgatory, and so forth. What’s an effective strategy for engagement when aiming to dialogue (and perhaps persuade) our Protestant friends and family members on these doctrines? 

Rose: You have to place the ax at the root of the tree. That means focusing on the canon of Scripture and sola Scriptura. Protestants believe that every doctrine should be explicitly spelled out in the Bible. But that belief is itself not found in the Bible, so start at that point. Along the way, you can familiarize yourself with the many good arguments and reasons supporting these doctrines, and at least show that they are plausible, which removes an obstacle for Protestants considering the Catholic Church.

CWR: Many Protestant churches still practice some form of communion, though most simply view it as a symbolic act. Why, then, can’t Protestants partake of the Eucharist when they attend Mass if they’re willing to at least grant that it’s important and sacred?

Rose: When we receive Holy Communion, we are saying “Amen” to all that the Church teaches, in particular all that she teaches about the Eucharist. We are saying we are in full communion with the Church. Yet Protestants do not believe these doctrines, reject the authority of the Pope and bishops, and so receiving communion would be like telling a lie.

CWR: Does the sacrament of Confession, which involves a middle man (namely, the priest) for forgiveness, cheapen or reduce Christ’s sacrifice for our sins?

Rose: It does not. No more than does the fact that God gives us the duty and honor of evangelizing our fellow-man. It is true that God could just do everything Himself, or use angels. But instead, as He showed in the Incarnation, He does not despise matter or His creation, and especially He does not despise humanity. He called men, the Apostles, and sent them out to preach, teach, heal, forgive, lead—this was His design and continues to be through their successors—it is the way He built His Church.

CWR: The Catholic Church teaches that weekly mass attendance is obligatory, while Protestants tend to believe that while the Sabbath Day is holy, there’s some wiggle room when it comes to weekly church attendance. Are we Catholics just being sticklers here?

Rose: I admit there are Sundays when I would love to go to Bedside Baptist. The Bible does not mandate that we should go every week, so Protestants often don’t go every week. But in most Protestant churches there is a strong tradition that one should go on Sundays. But God gave the authority to His Church to bind the faithful on such matters, and as it turns out, it is best for us that we spend at least one hour out of the one hundred sixty eight we have each week in the communal act of worship. We need Christ in the Eucharist. We need the Holy Mass.

CWR: How do you respond to the charge that the Reformation was a good thing since it ultimately led to a purification of the Catholic Church? 

Rose: In that sense, Judas’ betrayal was a good thing because it led to our redemption. And Adam’s sin was a good thing because God gave us Christ to save us. God can make all things work for good, but that does not mean that we should go on sinning. Schism was always a sin, leading up to the Reformation, and it is still today. The Church’s purification, which she needs in every age, is best accomplished from within. To be a true reformer, one must remain Catholic. That is what the great saints of the Church did.

CWR: At the end of the day, why focus on what divides Catholics and Protestants? Shouldn’t we just focus on what unites us in our common faith in Jesus Christ? 

Rose: When we can work together based on our common beliefs, we should. However it is very difficult to do that because our beliefs inevitably inform our actions. Perhaps we could let all the differences go, but Jesus did not give us that option. Instead, in John 17 He prayed that we would be perfectly one, as He and the Father are one, so that the world may believe that the Father sent Him. Our divisions are not from God, and they scandalize people, making it hard to believe that Christianity is true.

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About Christopher White 0 Articles
Christopher White is director of Catholic Voices USA.