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What Catholics Need to Learn from Protestants


The NEW OXFORD REVIEW is unusual in that it’s a Catholic magazine with a sizable proportion of non-Catholic writers and read­ers. Because of its Catholic identity, the NOR is naturally given to pointing to the strengths of Catholicism. But the NOR also has an ecu­menical vision, and so it’s important that we continue to make it clear that there are certain riches outside the Catholic Church which Catholics have not yet fully appropriated. Do­ing so is not at variance with the Catholic vo­cation, for while the Catholic Church is a magisterial church — a church with an authorita­tive teaching office — she is also, especially since Vatican II, a learning church.

It is undeniable that the Church has al­ready learned (or relearned) valuable lessons from the Protestant Reformation and its lega­cy. Here are some examples: Since the Bible contains God’s self-revelation of His nature and will, it is important for believers to have ready access to sacred Scripture. While Mary and the saints deserve honor, the Church must not allow them to overshadow Jesus Christ. The laity have an active, not a passive, role in the work of the Church; they need and are worthy of a spirituality appropriate to their state in life, and must not be seen as second-rate Christians. The Anabaptists deserve spe­cial commendation in three areas: for their emphasis on freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, their ardent witness to the peaceableness of the Christian experience, and their shining example of Gos­pel simplicity.

Today’s Catholic Church owes a debt of gratitude to the Reformation, which, despite its mistakes, has assisted Holy Mother Church in correcting certain of her own mistakes, and thereby helped her be more faithful to her Lord. But contemporary Catholics have not yet assimilated all the treasures of the Protestant tradition. Let’s consider here those offered by responsible Protestant evangelicals.

Evangelicals take it as their purpose “to know Christ and to make Him known.” While the Catholic Church would want to amplify that so it reads, “to know and obey Christ and to make Him and His love and justice known,” still Catholics can learn from the evangelical emphasis.

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