“To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”
Sometimes, I just feel like a wayward Protestant sticking her nose a little too much into the ancient, way-more-Catholic-than-Protestant, world. Why would a Protestant even read history prior to the sixteenth century? Wasn’t that a time of “Great Apostacy”?
Cardinal Newman, an Anglican turned Catholic, was the one who said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” And yes, there is a grain of truth in that. You don’t see many Protestants joining monasteries or bowing before icons or praying to Saints, which historical Christians were quite happy about. And if you don’t agree with something another Christian does, you feel tension when you read about it. But I wonder if history’s all that far from home. I wonder if whether or not I lived out my faith exactly the same way another Christian did, we could still be fellow Christians in a real and meaningful way. As for my part, I don’t feel I have to parrot Protestant opinions about history simply because I am Protestant. I believe good Catholics and good Orthodox are good Christians. I don’t buy into the claim that God somehow abandoned the Church before the time of the Reformation, or that Christianity ceased to exist for over a thousand years. Nor would anyone, after reading some of the awesome literature of those times. The church was alive and kicking from Late Antiquity and through the Middle Ages. But I don’t profess to know exactly how God looks at us all.
Working in the knowledge that I don’t know everything, I try to make the most out of history.
So what do I do when I feel a little torn inside, when I read ancient Christian literature and some of the things which were once familiar to the average Christian seem foreign to me?
I’m fascinated. I can’t seem to cure it. There’s a huge lot of Christian history that I’ve never seen before, centuries of wonderful devotion, human folly and bizarre anecdotes. Letters to monks. Rambling confessions. Theological treatises. Legends. And countless more documents which tell of a richly diverse world of Christians from places as far as modern Turkey, Egypt, Britain, Ethiopia and India.
There’s a whole great big Christian ancient world out there and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it.
Who am I to say “Protestant” and “Catholic” when there’s a far better word to work with. Christian.