Several things convinced me of the truth of the Catholic claims. The fifth argument in favor of Catholicism was first point that impressed itself upon me after my conversion. It was the question of unity.
Upon receiving the heartrending beauty and dazzling truth of the Christian faith with as loud a wail of surprise as a baby being born, but much more joyful, I felt as if I were an foundling raised in some terrible gray-walled dystopia where all the children are orphans were born in Petrie dishes, and no rumor of fatherly or motherly love existed, of a sudden finding that both his parents were alive and loved him and sent for him to come home.
Rushing to his magnificent ancestral mansion, the foundling discovers the great house has been torn asunder so that only the Eastern and Western wings still stand, and between them, where the main nave once rose, is now a cratered and lifeless no-man’s-land. At two opposite doors on opposite ends of the majestic ruin, his parents stand. They suffered a messy and vindictive divorce, and each now crossly demands of the foundling the he chose which one to love and which to hate.
That mansion is the Church.
It is no fault of mine that you weak-minded and hate-addicted Christians could not maintain the unity Christ bestowed upon His followers, and I resent to this day that this choice has been forced upon me.
And there is not merely a father and mother demanding exclusive loyalty and love from the discovered foundling, but dozens of major and thousands of minor brethren.
The Eastern wing of the mansion has been further torn into a Greek section and a Russian section, and a race of cannibal troglodytes, either of the communist or Czarist or Mohammedan bent, has been feasting on the flesh of their wretched slaves for decades or for centuries.
The Western wing was torn in sunder between a Catholic and a Protestant section and the brothers and sisters living there tore at each other’s flesh with their teeth so viciously and for so many years, that only the most drastic compromise—namely, that the mother church would have no authority over secular matters—could create a ceasefire. The Protestant rooms and chambers are all walled off each from his next neighbor, with new divisions created each week: Nicolas Stork is in one, and Martin Luther in another, then Henry VIII, Celarius, Robert Browne, Roger Williams, George Fox, William Penn, John Wesley, and on and on.
And there is an often overlooked Southern wing of the mansion, inhabited by Copts and Nestorians and Syriac and Cypriot Christians from North Africa to the Middle East to India, who even now are suffering genocidal extinction at the hands of the Troglodytes, and the larger and stronger members of the broken castle in other wings lift neither arms to help nor voices to protest.
Other buildings also occupy the grounds, either claiming to be the original mansion restored, or an improvement of what the original architect intended, or claiming no affiliation with the main mansion at all, and the builders here are named Reverend Moon or Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy.
Now my overwhelming reaction to beholding this splendid ruin was so primal as to be an intuition, practically an axiom: the shipwreck of the Church was a disaster. In nowise could I accept the principle that God is Love, and also accept that Love loves disunity. No bridegroom ever thought the best expression of true and perfect love for his bride was divorce.
More than one Protestant friend of mine urged me that God desired and condoned this separation of the denominations, on the grounds that each denomination has specific characteristics needed to allure back to the faith the many lost souls whose various needs and longings differ sharply from each other.
The argument is illogical in the abstract: those for whom the truth is an insufficient warrant to select whom to serve are moved by fad or fancy or some trivial external detail, like a man who selects a bride based on the brightness of her clothing rather than the rightness of her character. Such creatures are allured to serve God with their lips only, and there is no love of truth in them.
The argument is also, as a matter of practical fact, untrue: the Amish are not more austere than the Franciscans, nor the Calvinists more intellectual than the Jesuits, nor is a Baptist revival meeting more expressive than the feast days of Mardi-Gras, nor the Puritans more penitential than the fast of Lent.
The disunity is not based on a different of worldview, for we are all baptized Christians who believe in the Apostle’s Creed. It is based on small theological differences and large differences of hierarchy. I submit that any soul who would rather go to hell than submit to the truth about the filioque controversy is damned in any case, whether he is right on that point or wrong.
One friend thought I should be grateful to see side a wide marketplace of denominations, each with its own booth, all hawking their wares energetically, and perhaps the competition would keep all denominations honest and alert to serving their customer’s needs. The metaphor is a disingenuous one: should we make the house of worship into a place for tradesmen and moneylenders, indeed a den of thieves?
If the various denominations were merely ethical clubs of like-minded individuals gathered to do some good for the community, the disunion among them would indeed have the beneficial effects that spring from competition in the marketplace of ideas. But few denominations, perhaps none, make the claim that they are unnecessary to salvation, and that their truths they preach are no better and no worse than any other. The whole point of starting a new denomination, if it is not just willfulness or sordid politics, is that the heresiarch thinks he is orthodox and all others are heretics. He thinks he has not a truth but the truth.
An ethical club, or for that matter a restaurant, might think it had the best food or the best ethical program, but none think theirs is the only food on Earth without which men starve. A church is nothing like an ethical club or a restaurant. A denomination claims, or should claim, that theirs is the bread of heaven, without which men die and do not rise again. If the new denomination does not claim this, on what grounds is breaking from their prior denomination justified?
And yet I noticed none of my Protestant friends willing to say within my hearing that his denomination and his alone —Seventh Day Baptists, let us say — was the one, true, holy and sole Church founded by Christ outside of which there was no salvation. (I have on the Internet encountered two voices willing to say so; but far from being sober theologians, they were crackpots.)
One friend, indeed, praised ecclesial disunity on the grounds that were there but one Church, his particular denomination (which is small and eccentric) would have been blotted from existence with stake and faggot. This struck me as a good argument against a nationalized or established church, such as the Protestants erected in England under Henry VIII, or the Russian Orthodox suffered under the Czars, but not an argument at all against Church unity.
I did not understand why, in principle, a theological dispute could not be resolved in the future as they always had been in the past, by synods and counsels and, if need be, general counsels. Any Christian who accepts the Nicene Creed accepts the authority of the Council of Nicaea. I do not understand how, in principle, a Christian can claim to have the right to be a Christian without submitting to Christian teaching, that is, submitting to what Christ taught.
I did not notice any of my Protestant friends who praised disunity quoted scripture to support his position. Not one showed me any passage where Christ was seen praying that his followers should each man go his own way, and should interpret Christ’s saying each man according to his own lights, and should not submit nor serve his brothers, and should accept no authority over him. Logically, it may be that this disunity is Christ’s desire, and it may be that natural reason or Christian tradition can reveal this to us. But it cannot be that the scripture is the sole and sufficient source of all truth necessary for salvation, and that the correct interpretation of scripture is open to any scholar who diligently seeks it, and that disunity is needed for salvation, because the scripture does not say so (and says much indeed against).
But I noticed that none of my Catholic friends praise disunity, and all of them have a powerful irenic desire that the breech between Christendom be closed, and the old wound healed.
They were the only ones woebegone over the scandalous disunity. Nor should this be a surprise: while there may be some in Great Britain grieving over the loss of the American colonies who rebelled, there can be no Americans thus grieved, because they are the rebels. To them, the rebellion is laudable, not shameful, since to them it is an escape from a dark dungeon.
This then was the first point at which I realized that my reasoning would not allow me to agree with my Protestant friends but forced me to agree with the Catholics. One Christ came to Earth and preached one message with one baptism about the establishment of one kingdom.
The Church is unique in world history. Even an atheist must recognize that. No other prophet, sage or philosopher established a Church properly so called.
Mohammed, peace be upon him, established a law-code called Shariah, defining both religious and civic practice (in Mohammedanism, the distinction is meaningless) and he founded a theocratic dynasty, but he did not establish a Church, that is, a non-secular body with a magisterial authority to define doctrine. The Caliphate authority is the same as that claimed by the King of England: namely, the right to punish religious deviation as treason against the state.
Because that dynasty did not outlast the third generation before an event that was both civil war and heresy (namely, the revolt of Omar against the descendants of Mohammed), in the West it is often forgotten that the Muslims do not have a church or anything like it.
What they have is a theocratic state, a Caliphate, which is torn by civil wars and subdivided into smaller tribes and states: it is a world-state, a universal empire recognizing no boundaries and no legitimate non-members. Every soul is either within the House of Submission or within the House of War and waiting to be conquered. Mohammed, in other words, founded a world-state that merely has not yet conquered the world.
Buddha and Confucius did not even establish a religious practice: they a basically philosophers, one teaching a doctrine of asceticism and the other legalism, who were revered by their grateful followers with divine honors, like Caesar or Hercules.
Again, Lao Tzu no more established a Church than did Plato or Plotinus. And so on for the other prophets and sages and philosophers mistakenly said to have “founded” a religion. None of them founded a Church.
Nor in any prior culture whatsoever has there ever been an international priesthood or hierarchy like the Church: from Shinto to shamanism, all such priestly rites are carried out by the local nobility or a heredity clan or caste of priests, Levites or Magi or Brahmins. All are tribal or national. Only Mohammedanism claims this universal character, but it does not even claim to have a universal priesthood or institutional structure.
Zoroaster and Moses both codified and gave laws to their religions, but in each case, what was established was a hereditary priesthood, Levites or Magi, propitiating a tribal or imperial God, and not a body which established a doctrine: the Sadducees, for example, did not have the power to expel Pharisees for heresy because one believed in the resurrection and the other did not. That was not the function of these Levite establishment, nor the Zoroastrian Mages.
Now, the matter is a main point of controversy between Protestants and Catholics as to whether Christ Himself founded the Church, or whether this was done by Peter and Paul or later generations of disciples. Be that as it may, there is no controversy that all the writings of the Early Church Fathers, and every scrap of evidence we posses, shows at least that the official teaching of the Church, long before any split between East and West, Coptic or Melkite, was that the Church was founded by Christ and His apostles.
Certain crackpots whose name I will forebear to mention put forth the idea that Constantine alone founded the Church, which before then had no hierarchy or discipline or doctrine either agreed-upon nor enforced.
In order for this theory to be true, Constantine and his successors, would have had to possess the ability to discover all copies of both scripture and patristic writing extent at the time (including copies beyond the reach of the Empire, in Syria and Malabar) and redact or forge or burn them, to as to abolish all trace of this alleged original non-Authoritarian and non-Episcopal and non-Doctrinal proto-Feminist Church — and then with equal facility to erase all trace of this great act of book burning and book altering.
I note that the founder of the Qin Dynasty of China, when he attempted to burn all books and bury all scholars, that all history should begin with him, was not able to erase the trace of his bookburning. Was it possible that Constantine, who gained the purple after a civil war, was able to exact so complete an obedience from a wide empire that remembered other masters, that all would conspire to deceive future historians by failing to keep any record, verbal or oral, of such a vast program as a purge of all history would entail?
And yet somehow, even though the Imperial government of Constantinople possessed such overwhelming and thoroughgoing powers as this, the very next Emperor could not abolish the orthodox catholic Church in favor of Arianism, and by the time Julian the Apostate achieved the purple, he could not abolish Christianity in favor of paganism. Since these events were in living memory, one would think Constantius or Jovian or Julian would have left some memo about the sudden loss of the world-history-erasing power which their grandfather had enjoyed, or would have left some complaint about its use to benefit the Catholics and no one else.
The idea of Constantine as the sole founder of the authoritative Church can be dismissed as the ravings of historically-illiterate loons akin to folk who say the moonlanding was faked on a soundstage.
Without reaching the issue of who founded the true Church when, it was clear enough that through all history, including all Reformation history until the Treaty of Westphalia, that every Christian denomination taught that there was one true Church, founded by Christ, and the other Churches schismatic, false, heretical and apostate. In the early days the Reformers wanted to Reform the Church because they said she had fallen into error and corruption. The idea of founding a new Church was alien to the very idea of a Church.
So, likewise, the idea proposed by my friends that disunity was part of Christ’s will for His Church had no support in history or scripture or logic.
I knew at that point in my own search that any denomination which proposed that all denominations were equally valid, and (why not?) oriental and classical pagan and shamanistic belief systems as well, was not teaching the truth about Church unity, and had impeached itself from any claim to be the one true Church following the one true Christ.
It was merely a Christian-flavored prayer society, no doubt peopled by kindly or even saintly souls. But it was not a church much less the Church. A bridge that leads halfway across the sundering flood of the Jordan will not help me reach the Promised Land.
To recap: I took it as fundamental that the Church was meant to be unified, a single institution under a single head, if for no other reason that the disunity of the denominations made a mockery of their claims of exclusive and universal truth. While some older Protestant denominations are bold enough to make the claim that they are the one, true, universal Church founded by Christ, returning to the primitive roots which an apostate Church abandoned, other younger denominations did not, and did not preach or teach that the Church was meant to be one.
Those younger denominations I dismissed from consideration.