I stood on the 10th tee waiting to tee off. The group ahead of us was in the fairway so I couldn’t hit just yet. Tom, my playing partner, was an Evangelical Christian who didn’t like that I was thinking about entering the Catholic Church. As is often the case with Evangelicals, the reason for his dismay was Sola Scriptura.
We’d been speaking about the Church Fathers on the earlier holes. The Church Fathers were, to my way of thinking, integral to seeing what the early church believed. I argued that these were the men who passed on the faith exactly as they heard it from those who learned it at the feet of men who, in turn,had learned it from men who walked with the Apostles. My contention was that these men were presenting the gospel in a way that was closer to what Jesus taught, since so little time had gone by since the Resurrection.
I stepped up to the ball, ready to begin my backswing. “Think about this, Tom. Just before Jesus returned to the Father, Jesus advised the Disciples that the Holy Spirit would be coming. He said that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. For Protestants to be right, the first thing the Holy Spirit would have done would have been to send the world into 1500 years of darkness.”
I made my backswing. Tom said, “I do think the Holy Spirit plunged us into 1500 years of darkness” and, in shock,I hooked my tee shot into a shallow stream running by. Tom smirked. “Maybe you better start tracking your strokes on those little beads they have at your church.”
The 1500 “missing” years became a problem for me as I wobbled to the end of my time in Protestantism. Now, I love my Protestant experience. Protestantism taught me to be able to find my way around the Bible. I learned a deep reverence for Scripture. I agree with pope Francis, that the only word that describes a Protestant is “brother.” But, I began to realize that Christianity didn’t start in the 16th century. I wondered about the Church Fathers, about why we, in the Protestant church, didn’t seem to care who they were and what they had to say. Taken a step further, I noticed that we didn’t seem to care what Luther had to say, either. Or Zwingli and Calvin. I began to see Protestantism as a religion that lived, not in the totality of history, but in the last twenty minutes.
I asked my friend, a youth pastor who was playing with us that day, why this was. Why didn’t we talk about the early church fathers? He told me that he’d come across them in seminary but that they were mentioned only briefly. He thought that most “modern” Christians wouldn’t be interested in what they had to say. In fact, he thought, with all the commentaries and development of theology over the last hundred years or so, he thought it might be more accurate to describe the Church Fathers as the Church Infants.
I left that golf game very disturbed and one step closer to my eventual conversion to Catholicism. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen the very definition of hubris.It was the crazy and common thought that someone reading about an event nearly two thousand years after it had happened would understand it more completely than someone who’d heard a first hand description. I thought that it just couldn’t be possible.
To discount what the Fathers had said so readily didn’t seem thoughtful to me. After all, Tertullian said it was the blood of the martyrs, not the blood of the scholars,that was the seed of the church.