Looking for the Church
Another snippet from a recent email inqury...
(Some of the formatting is messed up.)
Ahhh, the first stage…remember it well. Actually, Chesterton’s first stage is already dangerously far down the road: few return ***spooky music plays***.
As a fellow co-exemplifier of silliness, internalismness (of sorts), epistemologistness, as well as evidentialistness (which is, after all, independent of internalism link), I salute your desire to look before you leap. I will happily
describe the lay of the land from my angle, but first I wonder if you haven’t
got thing quite the wrong way around.
What I mean to say is that don’t you really need evidence *not* to be a Catholic? One thing seems just plain clear: in, say, AD 987 there was one Church: one visible body of Christ on Earth under the direction of Bishops—with some special role played by the one in Rome—whose oversight was considered constitutive of the Church. I just don’t think there’s much room to dispute that—I mean really dispute, not dispute in the way that silly analytic philosophers can dispute ANYTHING!
Now after that point there are lots of places to jump off the train. Some hop off at station 1054. I spent some time sleeping on benches there. Lots of people get off at 1517, though few can say quite why. The least sophisticated stopping points are in the 1820s, the two most, I think, are either 1414ish or perhaps even 1870.
The Real Protestants up thar in Moscow, Idaho are quite consistent and rational (to the point of being kinda scary) and posit apostasy at the Council of Constance. I considered that option well myself. But, to return to my main point, *unless* one has good reason to posit apostasy, one has reason to be Catholic by default (assuming one has reason to be a Christian simpliciter).
Relatedly it’s often overlooked that—all things considered—it would be better to be united to the Catholic Church even if you thought it in *serious* need of reform than exist outside her without good reason. I highly doubt you’ll find any communion of Christianity with which you don’t have pretty significant disagreements—and as you’ll soon find, the papacy does not afford as serious a disagreement as one first expects. So *even if* I thought that the Eastern Church was fundamentally correct in its ecclesiology and that the Bishop of Rome, though the last court of appeals—had nowhere near the authority claimed in Vatican I, I’d still be Catholic, for I am, after all, a child of the West. This extends quite far I think.
Nevertheless, I will be happy to address your question concerning books. I’m a primary source guy myself and was most affected by what I read in the Apostolic Fathers, especially the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch. Also, that third generation is a very good read: Justin Martyr and, especially, Irenaeus of Lyons. There are nice one-volume editions of the Apostolic Fathers, including the Lightfoot edition
once published by Baker. Of course I’m sure you’re aware you can get full text
http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/. There’s also this book which a lot of Catholics rave about (his blog: http://www.fathersofthechurch.com/ and
his list of top books). It seems too broad to me, but has lots of extra info you might be interested in.
I’m pretty fond of the book _Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words_. It’s the one I most often give to people. But, as I said, I’m a primary source guy—taught Great Books and all—and I don’t have much info on where you’re coming from. If you have a strong attachment to some of the core Protestant doctrines like sola fide then maybe you need to start with a theological tome like _Not by Faith Alone_. If it’s culture shock then _Crossing the Tiber_,
_Evangelical is not Enough_, or _ By What Authority?:
An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition_ might be the right books. Almost
forgot another good one:
Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early
I hope you find these recommendations helpful, and please do follow up.