It’s hard to say what was the biggest factor which led to my conversion. There were really a few factors which worked together. I think it is important to keep in mind that we don’t tend to change our minds based on a single argument or even arguments alone. This is necessarily true because the nature of faith requires it. While arguments show that the faith is reasonable, not contradictory, and at least compatible with what we already know, at some point we must choose to believe what we cannot see. Rational demonstrations, or arguments, do not require choice. Hence, it cannot be by argumentation alone that we come to faith in something. That being said, here is what brought me to Catholicism.
First, I noticed that Protestant theologians and apologists almost never dealt with Catholic theology as taught by the Church, but that Catholic theologians and apologists were well versed in Protestant teachings. It became clear to me that Protestant apologetics were arguing against strawmen.
Second, I read a significant amount of protestant theology in seminary. Particularly informative was how the different denominations argued against each other. You can find this in the ”Four Views” books. What I realized was two-fold. First, that the denominational differences came down to the varied interpretations of scripture. Second, that each side was not able to demonstrate that the other side was necessarily wrong. Instead, they would say something like ”it seems more likely that this verse means this…” or ”this word is used this way x number of times or only one time, so we shouldn’t (or should) expect it to mean that here” or ”surely Paul isn’t saying such and such.” In other words, Protestant interpreters of Scripture were using subjective criteria to determine their interpretations. This criteria did not come from scripture (as you would expect given Sola Scriptura). However, scripture says clearly that the Church is the foundation and pillar of truth (1 Tim 3:15). In other words, I have no reason to accept one denomination’s interpretation over another’s except on the authority of a particular interpreter or a denominational tradition. This is opposed to the authority of the Church.
Third, I looked at historical theology. The Reformers claimed their reformation was a movement back to the original Christianity. If that were true, then looking backward through history, one would see the Church becoming more and more protestant (or more and more Catholic looking forward). However, what one sees when reading the earliest Christian writers is that they are all very clearly Catholic. They continued to be very Catholic up until the Reformation. Then, at the Reformation, the reformers introduced theologies that were completely new. Prior to the Reformation, all Christians believed in the real presence, baptismal regeneration, and a sacerdotal priesthood. To say the reformers’ theology was the original teachings of the Church, one would have to argue, as some have, that the men who sat at the feet of the Apostles completely perverted the teachings of the Apostles, and that the entire Church throughout the world simultaneously did the same. This is beyond credulity.
Furthermore, I read how St. Athanasius argued for Nicene orthodoxy. His argument for the consubstantiality of Christ with the Father did not come from scripture alone. It was actually the Arians who seemed to use scripture alone. Instead, St. Athanasius’s argument hinged on the fact that, when we are made Christians, at baptism, it is done in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The use of the name Son is what denoted Christ as consubstantial.
Protestants say that their differences are the little things, but that scripture makes clear the big things (like the divinity of Christ and the Trinity). However, the truth is that, using their own methods, as I argue are similar to the Arians’, one can question the major Christian doctrines. Protestants choose not to because they adhere to Nicene orthodoxy. However, their own methods would contradict Nicene orthodoxy. Hence, the whole enterprise is self-contradictory.
All these things, though, do not prove necessarily that Catholicism is true and Protestantism is false, though I think it comes close. The moment I made up my mind was while reading a passage of John Henry Newman. He says that if you were an early Christian and moved from one city to the next, you would want to find an orthodox church. You didn’t ask for “the church” because there were many churches. You didn’t ask for “the Christian church,” because many churches claimed the name of Christ and contradicted each other. Instead, you had to ask for the Catholic Church. All other churches had separated themselves from that Church, changed their name, turned around, and attacked the Catholic Church. For me, that was too plain to ignore.
That is essentially the intellectual journey I made. However, the beauty of the Church and the Christlike nature of the priest hood were important too. I realized that I was missing out on tremendous gifts from God which Protestantism rejects. Willa Cather’s book ”Death Comes for the Archbishop” shed light on that for me.
Some will find these arguments unconvincing. Even so, I’ve found the responses to these arguments are even less convincing. I’d love to hear what others think. Please feel free to leave a message in the combox.