All people hope for something. To get a promotion at work or to have a healthy family. To graduate with a good GPA or to travel to a dream destination. All people on some level hope that their way of life is meaningful and that, in the end, they will end up in some paradise after their death. Protestants are no exception. 

The theological virtue of hope is directed toward belief in the return of Christ, and belief that we might be saved from damnation. Baptized Protestants have received this virtue, but often they believe salvation is guaranteed in one way or another. They also feel confident in their unique beliefs. We as Catholics know that our salvation is not guaranteed, and that to think so would be the sin of presumption. We know according to Sacred Scripture and Tradition that God is abundantly forgiving. As the Prophet Isaiah says, God is “merciful and quick to forgive.” We can surely retain hope for salvation, but this can’t be without knowing that it isn’t promised. So what kind of assurance can we have about this life that Protestants can simply not have if they remain at odds with the one Church?

1) That The Church Is One

There are four titular and real characteristics of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. While the Fathers of the Church and the Catechism speak at length about these, I will only devote a small portion to showing why the Church is one. Look at how the Catechism sites the First Vatican Council:

Only faith can recognize that the Church possesses these properties from her divine source. But their historical manifestations are signs that also speak clearly to human reason. As the First Vatican Council noted, the “Church herself, with her marvelous propagation, eminent holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in everything good, her catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness of her divine mission.” (CCC 812)

In this beautiful saying, the Church is shown to perpetually exemplify her sign of unity, of oneness. How? Through the “profession of one faith received from the Apostles; common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments; apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family.” (CCC 815)

The Church is the sacrament of unity and salvation (cf. CCC 775) and indeed is the mystical Body of Christ. Christ, the Head, has only One Body. In a mystical fashion, this is his one Church, which is united in faith, worship, and origin. These three unitive principles are themselves in harmony with one another.

How do Catholics find assurance in this?

  • While the Church might look different parish to parish (ethnically, linguistically, liturgically, etc.), it is always united by its teaching.
  • In every church, the one sacrifice of Our Lord is present in the Mass; we are all united at Calvary in a very real way (more on this in the next article).
  • Every bishop is a successor of the Apostles, and in their giving of the sacraments, every member of the faithful is in the “spiritual genealogy” of the Apostles.

Why can’t Protestants find assurance in this?

  • Protestant churches express vastly different views in almost all matters of pertinence. Even where they have unity of faith, there is little structural unity that solidifies it. 
  • The only sacrament that binds Protestants to each other and to Catholics is baptism. Their worship is diverse to the extreme, and even where there is consistency, there is little unity of belief underpinning it. An excellent example of this is found within Anglicanism/Episcopalianism. While they have a common liturgy, the official teaching of their community is vague in regards to the Eucharist, thus, there are a great deal of varying opinions on what the Eucharist is depending on if one is “high church” or “low church”.
  • The Protestant communities have a variety of origins, all of them being founded less than 600 years ago. Some have figured that there are nearly 40,000 Protestant denominations (when one counts independent groups).  

2) That The Church Was Founded On Peter

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

Look at the promise in the second part of this verse. Pope Leo XIII states in Satis Cognitum that “The meaning of this divine utterance is, that, notwithstanding the wiles and intrigues which they bring to bear against the Church, it can never be that the church committed to the care of Peter shall succumb or in any wise fail.”

It’s important to recognize the connection between this promise and the tu es Petrus in how it holds that the pope cannot teach heresy. Pope Vigilius at the Second Council of Constantinople said that “the tongues of heretics” are the “gates of hell.” Pope St. Leo IX in In terra pax hominibus, declared that “the gates of Hell” are the “disputations of heretics.” Again, Pope Leo XIII called the Roman Pontiffs “the Gates of the Church” in his encyclical letter Praeclara Gratulationis Publicae. Therefore, Roman Pontiffs can’t be heretics or else the gates of the Church and the gates of Hell would be one and the same thing implying the Church and Hell are identical. 

How do Catholics find assurance in this?

  • We can know that no matter what, the Church will always endure. 
  • We can know that the popes, though flawed men, cannot teach rejection of dogma, and nor can they teach formal heresy. 
  • We can know that the Church cannot enter into error in her Magisterial teaching. 

Why can’t Protestants find assurance in this?

  • In order to justify their position of separation from the Catholic Church, Protestants either have to admit that the Church erred in her teaching and went astray, or that the Church was severed in some way in which the Church remains fully present in multiple places, while holding contrary views on essential doctrines. Both of these answers make Jesus out to be a liar. 
  • To restate this another way, Protestants have to either completely ignore or reject most or all of Christian teaching before the Reformation, or they have to read it in a revisionist way in order to justify their positions.

By Joel McMichael

Joel was born and raised in Tyler, Texas in a Protestant household. Attending East Texas Baptist University, he hoped his studies would prepare him for mission work. His religious studies raised more questions about the Christian faith than it answered, so his focus changed to literature and history. After graduating in 2019, he converted to Catholicism. Now, Joel is a seminarian for the Diocese of Tyler at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, LA. His favorite saints are Benedict of Nursia, Alphonses Liguori and Teresa of Avila. When he isn’t studying, he is playing ultimate frisbee, rock climbing, or writing his own fiction prose.