Christianity and faith related issues

Why I converted to Catholicism: Part 2

Those which follow are not, strictly speaking, reasons why this writer converted to Catholicism. Nevertheless, they are added points which substantiate Catholic truth, regarding the grounds for reasonable belief in God, Christianity, and the Catholic Church. If they have not already done so, readers are encouraged to consider this post’s precursor: ‘Why I converted to Catholicism’.

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Ground One: God

1. The principle of sufficient reason:

Based on Five Proofs of the Existence of God by Edward Feser and Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig, the rationalist proof from Gottfried Leibniz is summarised below:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing? In other words, why does anything exist at all? There must be an answer to this question, because nothing happens or exists without there being a sufficient reason for why it happens or exists.

    This principle of sufficient reason is true, argues Edward Feser, given

    “Common sense and science alike suppose that there are explanations for the existence of the things we encounter, the attributes things exhibit, and the events that occur… You find an unfamiliar pair of sunglasses lying on your sofa, and after asking around you determine that they were inadvertently left there by a visiting friend… Physicists explain the temperature of water in terms of mean molecular kinetic energy, and the orbits of the planets in terms of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Even when we don’t find an explanation, we don’t doubt that there is one, and we often at least do have an explanation of the fact that we don’t have an explanation of whatever it is we are investigating. For example, when a murder remains unsolved, we know that the reason is that the murderer was very careful to avoid leaving fingerprints, to make sure there were no witnesses, to hide the body so that it would take a long time to find it, and so forth (page 147; my emphasis).”

  • So, why does anything exist at all? According to William Lane Craig,

    “The reason cannot be found in any single thing in the universe, for each is contingent itself and does not have to exist. Nor is the reason to be found in the whole aggregate of such things, for the world is just the collection of these contingent beings and is therefore itself contingent.

    Nor can the reason be found in the prior causes of things, for these are just past states of the universe and do not explain why there are any such states, any universe, at all. Leibniz asks us to imagine that a series of geometry books has been copied from eternity; such an infinite regress would still not explain why such books exist at all. But the same is true with regard to past states of the world: even should these be infinite; we have yet to discover a sufficient reason for the existence of an eternal universe (page 99; my emphasis).”
  • Therefore, there must be a necessary being which is the explanation of why anything exists at all, who is distinct from and transcends the universe: God.

In response to the above argument, the atheist typically objects: (1) the principle of sufficient reason is generally true but does not apply to the sheer existence of things; or (2) existence is a brute fact without any apparent explanation.

Regarding the first objection, it is completely arbitrary and itself lacks a sufficient reason, to conclude the principle of sufficient reason does not apply to the sheer existence of things. In making this response, the atheist rashly suspends the exercise of reason to save his position.

Regarding the second objection that existence has no apparent explanation, Edward Feser writes,

The defender of the arguments (who argue for the existence of God) can respond: “What are you talking about? I just gave you an explanation. If you don’t want to accept it, then you have to show me specifically what is wrong with it, not pretend that it doesn’t exist!” (page 286).

2. The conscience:

Outlined by Fr. John Laux from pages 14-17 of Catholic Apologetics: God, Christianity and the Church, the conscience is an “impartial supreme judge” which “punishes on the spot” those who transgress Divine law, through evoking feelings of shame, remorse, and compunction. The conscience, writes Cardinal Newman, “implies that there is One to whom we are responsible” and if its cause “does not belong to this visible world, the Object towards which his perception is directed must be Supernatural and Divine.”

It may be challenged that the conscience is caused by false, Christian forms of education. To this challenge, Fr. John Laux replies, “If conscience is wholly the result of education, why does it so often rebel against the very things which it is taught? Conscience is often led astray by ignorance and want of proper training, by false principles and bad example; yet it makes itself felt in spite of all these hindrances and can never be completely stifled (my emphasis).”

With humility, this writer can personally affirm that, despite a virtually secular education and upbringing, actions which formally oppose Divine law (mortal sin) provoke the conscience. This pain results, even when a person does not understand why the pain has arisen or in logical terms, why the actions preceding the pain were immoral. Long enough persisted in, a diet of evil ultimately sickens a man by means of the guilty conscience (My Way of Life: Pocket Edition of St. Thomas: The Summa Simplified for Everyone by Walter Farrell, O.P., S.T.M and Martin J. Healy, S.T.D).

Ground Two: Christianity

1. God as the life of our soul:

All people aspire for happiness and seek their own good; they just diverge on the means of obtaining that good. Many, for instance, pursue wealth, sensual pleasure, and material comforts in an attempt to find a lasting happiness and satisfaction that never eventuates.

The alternative to this unfulfilling materialist path, is the life of sanctifying grace. The soul is the life of the body. Likewise, for a person who pleases God by being in a state of sanctifying grace, God is the life of the soul. While in a state of a sanctifying grace, a person subsists on a new principle of a new life. In this new life, a Catholic becomes a temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19); he enjoys the fruits of the Spirit: “charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continence, chastity” (1 Galatians 5: 22-23; my emphasis).

When a Catholic is in a state of sanctifying grace, he experiences a certain inward peace which the world cannot give. This point is, admittedly, in need of various qualifications. All people, of course, have a mask and display their best personal self to others. Nevertheless, if one looks with discernment, it becomes apparent that those who are truly comfortable in themselves, and in possession of the inward peace as well as happiness towards which all people aspire–are practicing Catholics. Non-Catholics can certainly derive enjoyment from other things–family, friends, community, work, material possessions, and sport–but they lack the fullness of joy that only the Holy Ghost can provide.

As Christianity is the path to happiness, it is true. This is because, to quote Greg Sheridan from The Australian, “no lasting good can come out of a system of lies.” Furthermore, all people desire both truth and happiness, which indicates that “true happiness is to rejoice in the truth” (page 229 of Confessions by St. Augustine).

For a fuller explanation of this point, I refer to A Manual of Catholic Theology, by Joseph Wilhelm D.D. PH.D and Thomas B. Scannell D.D.

2. ‘Religion’:

In Before Religion, Brent Nongbri explains why it is misleading to project the contemporary notion of ‘religion’ backwards in time and space; that is, to conceive of Christianity as one option among a sporgasboard of world religions. Before the Protestant Revolution, Europeans understood Christianity to be the unchanging, absolute, and immutable truth. Conversely, they understood Muslims and Pagan believers to be heretics, wayward Christians of a sort.

Christianity, being the revelation of the one true God, existed from the beginning of time. As such, traces of truth including prophecies about Christ are found in ancient Pagan thought. This is because after the Fall, the Christian deposit of faith descended into idolatry in hoary antiquity by taking on a markedly Pagan form. At first, this deposit of faith existed in the infused knowledge of Adam, before being relayed to Eve and gradually warped among their descendants with the passage of time. (Of course, the Christian deposit of faith was also preserved by people from hoary antiquity, later by the Jews, and most recently by the Catholic Church.)

Through this framework, notably explicated by Eusebius, “any non-Christian group can be seen as a deviation from a pure, ancient Christian past” (page 57).

3. The malice behind contemporary atheism:

In September 2022, Australia (along with Europe and the United States) is a post-Christian, atheist society. Most people do not believe or alternatively, have relegated Christianity to an exclusively cultural function. For this latter group, Christianity lacks all supernatural character; besides going to Church at Easter and Christmas time, such people think little to nothing of God.

The recent decline of Christianity is undisputed. However, for most living Westerners–the atheist, the secularist, or the practical secularist–the decline of Christianity from the 19th century onwards was entirely organic. Christianity declined, this explanation assumes, simply due to corresponding advances in science, health, technology, and human learning. People became more enlightened and no longer needed the Bible, the Cross, or prayer. (In passing, it is well to recall that people are more docile, superstitious, and averse to independent thinking than ever before, for the reasons outlined here and here.)

Nonetheless, the above account which equates societal progress with the collapse of Christianity, is gravely misconceived. Contrary to this account, powerful people in the 19th, 20th, and early 21st century–with malice and a premediated intent–conspired to injure the Christian faith, banish it from well-intending souls, and distort reality. In support of this, consider:

  • Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a prominent Freemason from the 19th century, maintained, “Our own principle is the negation of all dogma; our point of departure, nothing. To deny, always to deny is our method” (page 72 of The Mystery of Freemasonry Unveiled by the Cardinal of Chile; my emphasis).

  • In the International Masonic Congress at Brussels in August 1904, Brother Duse, delegate of the Grand Orient of Milan said, “The struggle against the Papacy is a social necessity and must be the constant objective of Masonry” (page 74 of The Mystery of Freemasonry Unveiled by the Cardinal of Chile).

  • “Lying,” said Voltaire, “is not a vice except when it does evil; it a great virtue when it does good. Be, then, more righteous than ever before. It is necessary to lie like a devil, not timidly, not a little at a time, but audaciously, always” (page 147 of The Mystery of Freemasonry Unveiled by the Cardinal of Chile; my emphasis).

  • Albert Pike, the leading Freemason of the 19th century, predicted that “We (the Freemasons) will unleash the nihilists and the atheists” so as to “prepare for the universal manifestation of the pure doctrine of Lucifer brought finally out into public view.”
  • From the Protocols of Zion:
    (a) “It is indispensable for us to undermine all faith, to tear out of the minds of the GOYIM the very principle of the Godhead, and the spirit, and to put in its place arithmetical calculations and material needs. In order to give the goyim no time to think and take note, their minds must be diverted towards industry and trade” (page 21; my emphasis).
    (b) “We have fooled, bemused and corrupted the youth of the goyim by rearing them in principles and theories which are known to us as false although it is by us they have been inculcated” (page 29; my emphasis).
    (c) “Our Philosophers will discuss all the shortcomings of the various beliefs of the goyim, BUT NO ONE WILL EVER BRING UNDER DISCUSSION OUR FAITH FROM ITS TRUE POINT OF VIEW SINCE THIS WILL BE FULLY LEARNED BY NONE SAVE OURS, WHO WILL NEVER DARE TO BETRAY ITS SECRETS” (page 41).
    (d) “Progress, like a fallacious idea, serves to obscure truth so that none may know it except us, the Chosen of God, its guardians” (page 41).
  • Harold Wallace Rosenthal, a Jewish aide to Jewish US Senator Jacob Javits, in an interview from 1976 with Walter White Jr., and later published as The Hidden Tyranny – The Rosenthal Document bragged, “The people are programmed to respond according to our dictates, not according to reason. Unthinking they will remain.”

Ground Three: Catholicism:

1. No divine faith outside of Catholicism:

It stands to reason, said Fr. Arnold Damen, “that if God reveals a thing or teaches a thing, He wants it to be believed. Not to believe is to insult God.” It is accordingly essential for the true Christian to “believe without doubting, without hesitating”–to have a divine faith.

There is, however, no divine faith outside of the Catholic Church. A Protestant interprets Holy Scripture based on his own judgement and as such, only ever has a human faith. The same conclusion holds true, albeit to a lesser extent, for Eastern Orthodox Christians. The latter may reverence their spiritual superiors, granting them the benefit of the doubt on questions of faith. But this is distinct from the instant, undoubting assent to which one owes an infallible teaching authority:

The Catholic has divine faith, and why? Because the Catholic says: “I believe in such and such a thing.” Why? Because the Church teaches me so.” And why do you believe the Church? “Because God has commanded me to believe the teaching of the Church; and God has threatened me with damnation if I do not believe the Church, and we are taught by St. Peter, in his epistle, that there is no private prophecy or interpretation of the Scriptures, for the unlearned and unstable wrest the very Scriptures, the Bible, to their own damnation…” He has provided a teacher (the Catholic Church) with infallibility; and this was absolutely necessary, for without this – without infallibility, we could never be sure of our faith.

2. Divine revelation and the need for infallibility:

God wills that by supernatural revelation, men are gathered into His kingdom of holiness and truth. From this end, various consequences flow:

  • Once spoken, the dignity of the Word of God is such that it cannot left to our choice. That is to say, submission to the Word of God is mandatory.
  • God could not cast His Word into the world leaving it to an uncertain fate.

Given the above, the revealed truth must be: (1) continually promulgated in God’s name and authority from the time of Christ to exact obedience; and (2) the same authority must be infallible, at least in certain circumstances. If the true Church lacked these attributes, the ends of supernatural revelation are thwarted–an impossible outcome with God. The Catholic Church, being the true Church, alone possesses these characteristics as it must.

For a fuller explanation of this point, I again refer to A Manual of Catholic Theology, by Joseph Wilhelm D.D. PH.D and Thomas B. Scannell D.D.

3. The exclusive claims of Catholic truth:

When recently speaking with a non-Catholic, he dismissively objected that all Churches claim to have the true version of Christianity. As a result, this objection implied, Catholic claims to the true faith are as equally imprecise as all the other Churches.

This foundation for this objection is partly correct: there are thousands of different Churches which differ on critical points of faith, morals, history, liturgy, and so forth. The Baptist prefers his interpretation of the Bible to the Lutheran, and so on. This objection is fundamentally misconceived, however, for what it omits: No other Church has ever made the lofty, exclusive claims as the Catholic. For example, the Catholic Church claims:

  • To have been directly founded as the one true Church by Jesus Christ.
  • To have an infallible teaching authority.
  • To have power to turn bread and wine into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ; likewise, to renew the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary through the Mass.
  • That there is no salvation outside of its Church.

Fundamentally, no other Church has made all the above claims with consistency. Moreover, in exercise of its infallible teaching authority, the Catholic Church anathematizes dissidents; in so doing, she professes a divine and absolute authority over Christian doctrine. In his encyclical from 8 September 1713 directed against Jansenism, partly extracted below, Pope Clement XI captures the nature of this commanding and unquestionable authority:

Having, therefore, as well heard by word of mouth, as received in writing, the suffrages of the aforesaid cardinals and other divines; and having first implored the assistance of the Divine Light; by private and even publick prayers appointed to that end; we do respectively, by this our ordinance, which shall perpetually stand in force, declare, condemn, and disallow, all and singular the above-inserted Propositions, as false, captious, illsounding, offensive to pious Ears, scandalous, pernicious, rash, injurious to the Church and its practice; not only outrageous against the Church, but even against the secular powers, seditious, impious, blasphemous, suspected of heresy, and savouring of heresy itself; as also encouraging heretics and heresies, and even schism, erroneous, condemned, and, lastly, also heretical; containing divers heresies manifestly tending to innovation, and principally those which are found in the famous propositions of Jansenius, nay, even as taken in that sense in which these were condemned (taken from pages 101-102 of The Papal Encyclicals in Their Historical Context by Anne Fremantle).

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