A few days ago I visited a Protestant blog that posts various apologetics entries arguing for (Reformed) Protestantism. I punched in a comment or two, and it wasn’t long before I was blasted by the owner and rudely insulted as “not being able to understand English.”
Another commenter at that site, who I have known for his anti-Catholic virulence, also began making comments toward me, the same guy who told my friend David–a recent Catholic convert from Reformed Protestantism–that Jesus would condemn David to hell at his judgment.
Where does this disdain come from?
Catholics believe that Protestants are Christians. We believe they can be saved, have the Holy Spirit and His gifts, and are brothers and sisters in Christ, albeit separated due to the divisions between us.
But many Protestants do not think likewise about Catholics. My friend Brent Stubbs made a blog post recently discussing three forms that anti-Catholicism takes. (Here I’m speaking of the genetic variant, though I’ll nuance it a bit.)
Focusing on Reformed Protestantism specifically–this is John Calvin’s brain-child–there is among Calvinists a strong disdain for the Catholic Church, and some adherents to this flavor of Protestantism believe all practicing Catholics are going to hell. There are three main causes for this belief:
- They believe the Church of Rome teaches gravely evil and false things
- Further, their beliefs entail that Romanists are predestined to damnation, and
- They have a visceral revulsion for the Church–her saints, her relics, her liturgy, her earthiness.
To their credit, they have this hatred for the Catholic Church (or “Romanism,” as you will hear) because they believe it is leading people away from Jesus and the Gospel. And good for them! If I believed that some church or denomination was doing that, I would oppose it too–perhaps not using their same vitriol and methods–but I would not want people to follow those beliefs.
The vitriol stems largely from the second point: Under Reformed Protestantism, God has predestined the elect to salvation and the reprobate to damnation. Being a faithful Catholic therefore means, practically by definition, that you are a reprobate. And here’s the kicker: if you are one of the reprobate, many of the passages from the Gospel on forgiving your brother and helping him do not apply (at least as they interpret them). Once you cross the Tiber, you are anathema and damned.
The third point is subjective and its degree varies with every person. Realize that Calvin’s version of Protestantism led to the desecration of Catholic churches, the smashing of beautiful statues, and the whitewashing of ancient, sacred paintings and images. Given this legacy, is it any wonder that many Calvinists today have a gut reaction against the Catholic Church, with her incense and bells and stained glass and statuary? (Recall this scene from the Matrix–“it’s the smell!”)
The Consequences of Their Beliefs
Unsurprisingly then, when a Catholic is engaging in dialogue with (this kind of) Reformed Protestant, there is no parity in the discussion. One side thinks the other is a Christian who is doing his best to follow Jesus, and the other side thinks he is talking to a wicked and damned creature.
A blindness thus arises that clouds their hearts and minds, making it incredibly difficult for them to see the Catholic Church for what she truly is, and even to objectively weigh the arguments for and against her. This is not all Protestants, but many. It becomes a case where the disdain and revulsion takes on a life of its own, and no acts of love or courage or faithfulness on the part of Catholics can overcome it. Only God can. Consider Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables where Inspector Javert cannot believe that Jean Valjean–whom he classes as one of the reprobate–could possibly have repented and become a good man:
Even when proof of heroic virtue is shown, it cannot be accepted as coming from God. It must be evil masquerading as good, because Romanism is a false religion.
Only God can move hearts. We must pray for our Protestant brothers and sisters, and thankfully, most do not hate the Catholic Church (or Catholics). More and more, Protestants are able to access accurate information on the Church and judge for themselves whether she is the anti-Christ that they were taught growing up. But there is still a sizable contingent of Protestants whose disgust with the Church seems implacable. They need our prayers and, if possible, our reasoned, charitable dialogue.
Let us continue to pray that Christ will unite us in the fullness of the truth!