The sanc­tuary of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Hillsdale. S. Nathaniel Grime | Col­legian

The Collegian’s Jan. 16 article, “Core and con­ver­sation inspire Catholic con­version at Hillsdale,” has acquired much attention from both Catholics and Protes­tants alike. 

In Assistant Pro­fessor of History Korey Maas’ letter to the editor on Jan. 30, he noted, in agreement with many of my own Protestant friends, that there were present in the article “traces of con­de­scension and tri­umphalism.” It is not my place to determine who, if any, might be deemed respon­sible for divisive sen­ti­ments either in the article or in the Hillsdale reli­gious com­munity at large. 

I do, however, think that it is my place to exhort both Catholics and Protes­tants to seek under­standing before con­dem­nation and unity before division.

Accu­sa­tions of “con­de­scension” and “tri­umphalism” are nothing new to the Catholic Church. Such accu­sa­tions are often grounded in reality, as some Catholics seem to take pride in the fact that they know the truth (as they under­stand it) which others lack, pre­ferring to exult in them­selves rather than to grieve at the Church’s division. 

Many other Catholics are far from such pride, but are not nec­es­sarily exempt from these same accu­sa­tions. 

The Catholic Church believes that it pos­sesses a certain authen­ticity that Protestant denom­i­na­tions lack. While this assertion may be com­mu­ni­cated in pride, pride is not its essence. An essential doc­trine of the Catholic Church is that Christ, through the insti­tution of the mag­is­terium, pre­serves the Catholic Church from error so that the fullness of rev­e­lation which was given to the apostles is main­tained to this day in perfect purity. 

One may sin­cerely believe this claim, thereby asserting that the Catholic Church is right where Protestant denom­i­na­tions are wrong. This does not mean that the Catholic faith is founded on pride, con­de­scension, or tri­umphalism. Instead, it means that Catholicism includes a claim about the nature of God’s rev­e­lation which excludes the full affir­mation of any other Christian teaching that is not fully aligned with the teaching of the Catholic Church. 

Protes­tants ought to realize that a Catholic, with sin­cerity of faith and devotion, is not nec­es­sarily con­demnable on account of pride for main­taining that the Catholic Church pos­sesses the fullness of rev­e­lation and that Protes­tants are wrong. One may, of course, argue whether or not Catholics are right, but the Catholic con­viction ought not to be dis­missed out of hand with an accu­sation of odious pride.

Catholics, however, must be espe­cially careful that their sincere faith is not cor­rupted by the pride of which they are often accused. This is an espe­cially prevalent temp­tation at Hillsdale, where we labor daily to dis­cover truth. Knowledge and love must always coincide because truth (the object of knowledge) and goodness (the object of love) always coincide. 

If knowledge is sep­a­rated from love, it is in vain. For this reason, St. Paul writes that if I “under­stand all mys­teries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove moun­tains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). 

Our desire to know the truth ought always to lead us into deeper charity. If we fail to allow knowledge to give way to love, and instead pervert knowledge so that it pro­vides an occasion for exulting oneself and har­boring resentment for other Chris­tians, then we are as con­demnable as the Phar­isees, who best under­stood doc­trine in their day. 

Because Protestant denom­i­na­tions affirm the absoluteness of their own doc­trine as strongly as the Catholic Church does, Catholics and Protes­tants alike are liable to fall into the phar­i­saical temp­tation, and both should therefore take the utmost care that they do not thereby become Satan’s greatest delight. 

Protes­tants, too, may at times be found guilty of pride in their not being Romanists, perhaps founded on a belief that the Catholic Church is fun­da­men­tally not Christ-cen­tered. Regardless, any Christian, no matter the sect, who believes that he knows the truth ought always keep in mind, “To whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Luke 12:48), and keep their hearts firmly fixed on charity and humility.

The­ology is not a game in which we attempt to accu­mulate as much knowledge as we can and are thereby declared vic­to­rious over others who know less. The­ology seeks knowledge of a per­sonal God so that our ideas properly reflect the nature of the One with whom the Christian seeks a rela­tionship. Thus, any Christian who claims to know true doc­trine must put his knowledge at the service of loving God and neighbor. A Protestant who pride­fully denounces the Catholic Church and a Catholic who takes pride in not being a Protestant both abuse their the­ology. 

One may be glad to belong to his spe­cific denom­i­nation without taking pride that he does not belong to another; this latter pride must not be indulged, lest discord reign over the Church. 

Over the last century, the Catholic Church has become more aware of her need to promote unity in the larger Christian body. In the Catholic Church’s decree on ecu­menism from Vatican II, she pro­claimed, while simul­ta­ne­ously grieving the division that pre­vents “the Church from attaining the fullness of catholicity proper to her,” that “Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endow­ments from our common her­itage which are to be found among our sep­a­rated brethren. It is right and salutary to rec­ognize the riches of Christ and vir­tuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ.” 

Protes­tants, too, might benefit from the same exhor­tation. No Catholic should dep­recate a Protestant’s sincere faith, and no Protestant should dismiss the genuine presence of Christ in the Catholic Church, both at Hillsdale College and throughout the world. 

Unity will never be perfect between Catholics and Protes­tants while doc­trinal dis­agree­ments persist. But even sub­stantial the­o­logical dif­fer­ences should not be the cause for pride, con­de­scension, tri­umphalism, prej­udice, sus­picion, or ani­mosity. Our account of God should always cause a desire for unity amongst all Chris­tians and for charity — espe­cially for those members of Christ’s Body with whom we most differ.


Nate Mes­siter is a senior studying phi­losophy and religion.