9 Books I Read While Discerning Catholicism: #3 The Catechism of The Catholic Church
To be trained in the Classical Attributes of God is to be prepared to read and understand the Catechism. These are things like God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and infinite. No one has problems with these attributes. But things like God being infinite leads to other classical attributes. For example, Divine Simplicity is the doctrine that says God is not composed of parts. It is derived from the idea that infinity is not divisible and therefore not composed. Like God being infinite, Divine Simplicity doesn’t tell us what God is, as much as it tells us what he is not. But the problems start when someone says “Yeah, so God’s love and his justice are identical.”
St. Thomas is quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC),
In God, power, essence, will, intellect, wisdom, and justice, are all identical. Nothing therefore can be in God’s power which could not be in his just will or his wise intellect. (271)
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Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not under the impression that every Catholic out there understands Divine Simplicity, and I’m not implying that all Protestants reject the idea either—for a good book by a protestant on the subject, check out James Dolezal. It is merely an example to show that these classical descriptions of God, as well as classical/Thomistic descriptions of man (mind, will, intellect, etc.), were all throughout the CCC.
As I read the CCC, I realized that much of it was exactly the kind of document I envisioned solid Evangelical Thomists would create. I wasn’t alone in this. During my seminary education, a friend of mine, who is now Catholic as well, came to me one day and told me about an idea he was working on. He wanted to apply Thomistic categories of thought to Protestant doctrines (e.g., Soteriology, Justification, Sanctification etc.) I thought this was a brilliant idea and believed it would fast track him for Ph.D. work. Later I found out he had converted. Last I checked, he is doing a Ph.D. at a Catholic University on something totally different.
But reading the CCC still has a lot of difficult theology for a Protestant to get behind. Specifically, Mariology, Saints, and extra-biblical stuff didn’t sit well with me. More on this later in the series.
Like Forty Reasons Why I Am a Catholic by Peter Kreeft, The CCC spoke in the language of my seminary education, and while I didn’t agree with everything at first, I had to recognize that it had a lot going for it theologically and morally. Additionally, I had to ask, what kind of Christians, assuming they were serious about their faith, would the Catechism produce? They would inevitably become better people. They would create godly families, and have a deeper understanding of God and their Bible.
The more I studied the CCC, the more I started to see the ideas that I agreed with creeping up in other media I consumed. When I listened to Matt Walsh or Michael Knowles, I would hear something and think, “Is that because he’s smart, or because he’s Catholic?” Matt Walsh, for example, didn’t go to college or seminary, yet his What Is a Woman? documentary was the Socratic method united to the Church’s position on human nature. Not only that, his open forums were excellent.
Michael Knowles was also having an impact on my thought. He was bringing Aristotle (aka Uncle Aristotle), Aquinas, and ideas like Hylomorphism into his political commentary. Again, was this because he was a nerd or because he was Catholic? The more I read the Catechism, the more I realized that it was the latter, not the former.
Additionally, I was reading more books by Dr. Scott Hahn and other converts, as well as listening to Pints with Aquinas. It was a real troubling time, but it was during this time that I realized when people converted they didn’t abandon everything in their Protestantism. For example, a Reformed Protestant, still keeps some of his, shall we say, “denominational psychology”. A reformed guy still is a “reformed guy” in terms of their love of scripture, but their stronger within the Catholic Church. Dr. Hahn is a good example. The more I read his books, the more I could see he still had a Presbyterian flare to his teachings and writings. At the same time, it was clear that the Catholic church had retained his strengths that Presbyterianism formed in him, ejected what was incompatible, and added what he was missing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the CCC. I think it’s one of the greatest theological documents I have ever read. It’s concise, clear, comprehensive, and collaboratively written. They have produced an excellent example of how theology should be done. Even if you don’t agree with its conclusions, it’s still well worth the read, if for no other reason to get a proper understanding of what Catholics really believe…that…and it might just make you a Catholic 😇.
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