Skip to comments.John Calvin Made Me Catholic
Posted on 06/02/2007 12:50:30 PM PDT by Titanites
I was baptized on April 29, 1973, in East Paris Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My religious upbringing until college was completely CRC; my schooling through college was in Christian schools sponsored by the CRC. I cant say that I was aware of any Protestant denominations other than the CRC. The first time I heard the words of the "Hail Mary" was from the lips of my CRC minister during a high-school catechism class. My only other contact would have been the pictures of the seven Catholic sacraments in the family encyclopedia. In many ways this "cloistered" upbringing was a great blessing to me later on: I grew up free from any anti-Catholic prejudices, and so there was no anti-Catholic bigotry on my part that had to be overcome before my conversion.
When I was about twelve, my mother made me a brown, terrycloth bathrobe. My family had a tradition of going camping every year, and there were sand dunes behind the campground. I can remember vividly pacing up and down these sand dunes in my brown bathrobe, pretending to be a monk. I could have had no idea at that age what a monk was (perhaps I got the idea from television), but there I was, in my robe, walking in my "desert."
I went to a "Bible camp" for a number of years as a child. I remember one summer sitting around the campfire singing the simple song, "God is so good." And for some reason, I started crying. The simple words of that little song caused a disproportionate reaction in me. I was crying because God was good and I was not. But I was also crying because God is good, and the simple beauty of that thought overwhelmed me. I felt that God was really present to me at that moment.
There is only one other time I have felt that presence in any similar way. It must have been my junior year in high school. My brother and I went before the elders of our CRC church to make profession of faith (something like the sacrament of confession, although the CRC doesnt believe that the profession of faith is sacramental).
Profession of faith is a two-stage process: First, the elders of the church quiz you about what you believe and tell you if you "made it" or not; and then, on the next Sunday, you stand before the entire congregation and "profess your faith." After the quizzing, my brother and I had been sent out for the elders to deliberate, and then we were called back into the meeting room and told that our professions before the elders had been accepted.
One of the elders reminded the pastor that it was customary to sing in thanksgiving at this point the song "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow." As we started singing, I got to thinking how the faith I had just professed was the same as the faith of these fifty- and sixty-year-old men around me. Even more than that, I could see with the eye of my imagination all the saints of the ages past together with us, looking on that little room and praising God with us. And if I had felt the presence of God that time at camp, what I was feeling now was the presence of God through the communion of the saints.
Like all good CRC kids, after high school I went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (I think I may have applied to one or two other places, but only pro forma; Calvin was where I wanted to go.) Due to a couple things that had happened the summer before, I chose pre-seminary as my major and then changed it to classical languages and theology. My idea was to become not a pastor but a "pastor to pastors"a professor of Church history in a seminary.
During my first year at Calvin, my interest in monasticism resurfaced, mostly through the coming to Calvin of a couple of brothers from the Taizé community. This community is an ecumenical monastery in France (founded by a small group of men from the French Reformed tradition) whose primary work is prayer for reconciliation. When the two brothers came to Calvin, we had a chance to talk to them, and they also let a Taizé-style prayer service: very simple and beautiful, with scriptural refrains sung repeatedly.
The summer after my first year at Calvin, some friends of mine and I went to a larger meeting in Dayton, Ohio, and got to see the founder of Taizé, Brother Roger. I dont know if you can see holiness in someone, but if so, I saw it in the eyes of Brother Roger.
During that weekend, my friends and I were walking around Dayton, and I just happened to duck into a church for a while. It had to have been a Catholic church, but I dont think I realized it at the time. As anyone who knows me can verify, I have a weakness for church literature racks. In this church I saw a pile of little baggies on a table and took one; I dont remember if I opened it before or after I got out of the church. But inside were a small plastic rosary, a few pamphlets, and some other items. I put the whole thing in my pocket and thought nothing of it.
When I returned to Calvin in the fall, I began using the crucifix on that rosary during my devotions (which consisted of reading through the Psalms on a thirty-day cycle) as a way of centering my eyes and my thoughts on the God. Before I left Calvin, I was praying the rosaryI may be the only person who has prayed a rosary in the prayer rooms in Calvins chapelbut Im getting a bit ahead of myself.
During my first year or so at Calvin, I grew to be a good friend of the college chaplain. My sophomore year I think it was, Chaplain Cooper asked me to join a group he had formed that got together each week to read and discuss a section from the Institutes of John Calvin. With my own interest in theology, I ate up everything we were reading. This was at last something to really sink my intellectual teeth into.
The first semester of my junior year at Calvin, a couple of interesting things happened. One day coming home from my CRC church, I happened to catch the last part of the local televised Catholic Mass. More interesting to me than the Mass was the little ten-minute discussion show afterwards, where a priest and another fellow were discussing the Catholic teaching on Mary. I was kind of interested, so I wrote to the address given at the end of the program, and the priest-host of the show sent me a copy of the text they had been discussingchapter eight of Lumen Gentium, one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. It was interesting, but at the time it didnt make a big impression on me.
Another interesting thing that year was a class I was taking in the fall semester on early and medieval theology. In the course of one semester we were supposed to read two thousand pagesalthough I dont think even the professor did and cover fifteen hundred years of Christian history, from the apostolic Fathers to Erasmus. Two authors I read in that class really captured my imagination. I say now that Irenaeus of Lyons introduced me to the beauty of the Catholic faith, and Thomas Aquinas introduced me to its lucidity.
Also around that time I became a friend with a fellow in that class who had converted from the CRC to the Episcopal Church. I started going with him to the Wednesday night services at the local Episcopal parish, which introduced me to a liturgical form of worship. (Later, perhaps in the spring of my junior year, I even had the Episcopal priest bless the brown scapular that was also in the baggie from Dayton. He didnt know what a brown scapular was, but he blessed it anyway. I still wear the scapular, now properly blessed and imposed by a Catholic priest.)
The defining moment in my conversion came in January of my junior year, if I remember correctly. Around that time I was reading Peter Kreefts Fundamentals of the Faith, but that wasnt really what did it. The first major impetus in my decision for Catholicism came from a passage in John Calvin. The discussion group I mentioned had come to the section in the Institutes where Calvin gives a number of reasons why a group may break from the Church and go into schism. And as the discussion progressed that evening, a question occurred to me. I asked it: "Granted that these are the reasons Calvin gives for going into schism, what happens if, by the grace of God, the church you broke away from should repair the error that was the occasion for the schism? Do you have then an obligation to rejoin the church you broke away from?"
Silence. We talked about it for a bit, but we didnt come up with an answer. Chaplain Cooper didnt have an answer. And that did not satisfy me, not one bit.
It was at that moment that, looking back on it, I can say that I started taking John 17 seriously. Here we see our Lords dying wish to his Father, as it were, that his followers be one (17:21). This is not some hypothetical, invisible unity, but a unity so real that the only model for it our Lord uses is his own unity with the Father. And I began thinking to myself: If unity among his followers was the last wish of the one I call Savior and Lord, I had better do everything in my power to fulfill it.
So I began reading about Catholicism. I wrote to the priest-host of the show I mentioned and also to Peter Kreeftthe only graduate from Calvin that I knew of who had converted to Catholicism. Both gave me good lists of books that I began reading, and I found others on my own. Two of the most influential books I read were John Henry Cardinal Newmans Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and Francis de Saless Catholic Controversies. The first has a marvelous passage connecting all of Christian doctrine to the fundamental belief in the Incarnation; the second raised the all-important question, granting that the Church needed reform at the time of the Reformation, who gave the Reformers the authority to do what they did?
In all this study, I was finding that one of three things was true. (1) The Catholic Church teaches what I already believe, for example, the articles of the Apostles Creed. (2) The Catholic teaching was a logical extension of what I already believed. For example: Because of the communion of the saints, I can ask you or any other Christian here on earth to pray for me. Well then, why cant I ask for Mary or one of the other saints in heaven to pray for me? (3) There were a very limited number of instances where the Catholic Church taught differently than what I believed as a Reformed Protestant, and in each case the Catholic Church was right. For example, I came to reject Calvins teaching on double predestination.
By my senior year at Calvin I was more or less a Catholic in my convictions. I was simply waiting for the right time to convert. I chose to go to Notre Dame to do my graduate work because it is a Catholic school (and again, it was really my only choice). But for my first year there, I was still waiting. What really made me decide to take the plunge, so to speak, was a conversation I had with a Protestant friend in the spring of my first year in South Bend.
Because I usually wear my heart on my sleeve, this friend and I had gotten to talking about my journey toward Catholicism. I began explaining the Catholic position on the subject of the Eucharist to my friend, based on John 6. I talked about how the first part of the chapter demonstrates that Jesus can do miraculous things with bread (John 6:114). The second part (John 6:1521) shows us that Jesus can do miraculous things with his body. And then we get to the Bread of Life discourse, which concludes with the promise of the Eucharist.
At some point in the conversation, it was like my mouth went on autopilot. Outside, I was still talking; but inside, I was thinking to myself, "You know, I really believe this stuff." I realized that Catholicism was no longer for me a clever intellectual system; I had received the gift of supernatural faith. And so I decided then and there that I would enter the Catholic Church the next school year (for reasons I wont go into, I had already decided to go through an RCIA program when the time came, so I had to wait for the next "rotation"). On Holy Thursday, March 27, 1997, I became a member of the Catholic Church and received my first Holy Communion, and two days later during the Easter Vigil was confirmed Catholic, taking Irenaeus as my confirmation patron.
It was only looking back on everything a few years later that I noticed how Mary had been with me throughout the whole process, leading me in her own subtle, humble way to deeper intimacy with her Son. She had been named in the Hail Mary that my Protestant pastor had spoken those many years ago. It was her rosary that I discovered in Dayton. It was Lumen Gentium, chapter eightsome of the most beautiful words the Church has ever spoken about our Ladythat put me in contact with a Catholic priest for the first time. And it was at the University of Notre Dame, our Ladys university, that I was received into the Catholic Church.
Of course, my journey with God continues to be written, and I still struggle to know and do Gods will. But I cannot imagine my life without being a Catholic. John 17:21 still haunts me, and I still wish for everyone to experience the fullness of the Christian faith, the fullness I now possess. With the words of Paul, I conclude, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Phil. 3:12).
Most unusual faith journey. I thought it might be because Calvin lays out in the most lucid way possible the case for Protestantism. In order to answer him, one must have a very good grasp of Catholic theology.
John Calvin made me Catholic, John Calvin made me Mormon, John Calvin made me a Campbelite, John Calvin made me atheist, John Calvin made me Wiccan, John Calvin made me an evolutionist.Balderdash! Why it flies in the face of predestination!
And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree? He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" -- Isaiah 44:18-20
"They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.
And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?
He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" -- Isaiah 44:18-20
God willing, the Holy Spirit will return him from where he began.
This "article" was probably written yesterday. Tomorrow we'll see another thread:
Followed by the sequel:
My brother and I went before the elders of our CRC church to make profession of faith (something like the sacrament of confession, although the CRC doesn't believe that the profession of faith is sacramental)...
Obviously this guy knows next to nothing about his former Protestant faith since a "profession of faith" is nothing "like the sacrament of confession."
This sounds more like a confirmation class which most 12-year-old Protestants understand correctly.
I knew I'd find a few glorification references to Mary somewhere in here.
Praise Mary. Glory to Mary. HaleluMary.
lol. That’ll be next
The way Mary gets around I think she may be in danger of being labeled a yenta
Or omniscient and omnipresent....:>)
What is double predestination? Seems like an odd phrase.
It’s any wonder deism came after the “Reformation.” It’s the next logical step, given the theology. If those in Heaven aren’t more like Him, then God must be pretty remote, and if He’s pretty remote, then He’s a Prime Observor, who doesn’t mettle in our lives.
It means that God specifically scheduled some people for heaven and specifically scheduled some people for hell.
Single predestination says that God specifically scheduled some people for heaven. The remainder were on their own.
Joshua 24:15 - "But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Is there some new meaning for the word "choose"?
Christ made me an adopted child of the Father and wrapped me in His righteousness
Well if God ordained the elect to eternal life then He also elected those He did not choose for judgment by His inaction.
So whether it was a direct ordination or a passive one the result is the same.
Because I believe God is the 1st cause of every event I happen to be a double predestinarian . There are no accidents or unintended consequences with God
That makes no sense. It your statement is true, then God caused Adam and Eve to sin.
Do you think He was surprised by their sin?
He gave them the ability to sin and then He put the snake in the garden and the trees in the garden .
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