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“I did not want to be in the dark about anything”

October 5, 2010

St. Peter holding the Keys“Everyone feels the need of authority, though, unhappily, not all look to the same authority or to the right one. Some, like Rationalists, take reason for their sole authority for everything; others, like the Evangelicals, take the Bible; but an authority of some kind everyone must have. I was clearly convinced that the authority for me was one that could teach me with infallible certainty and leave me in no doubt whatsoever as to the great truths about salvation. I wanted to have certainty, and I believed that Almighty God meant mankind to have it.

Some good friends, in arguing on the point, would fain have persuaded me that this was an erroneous and unhealthy craving on my part, that God never meant we should have this kind of absolute certainty, and that Rome’s claim to put us in possession of all necessary truth, without possibility of error, was false and delusive and pernicious, leading simple souls astray with its glamour and plausibility.

I could never agree with persons who took up that position. To me it seemed that the Incarnation of the Son of God, and his sojourn among men, and his teaching his apostles and declaring God’s truth to them, and his founding a Church would have been superfluous and absurd and useless if he had not intended that men should be taught with unerring certainty what to believe. The very object and purpose of his coming down from heaven was to give men certainty about God and their relation to him, both in the present and for the future.

To leave them, then, still in doubt and uncertainty, pursuing after the truth, struggling to find it out, confessing that they really could not take it upon themselves to say with absolute confidence whether or not this or that doctrine was true–all this struck me as making void the work and word of Jesus Christ, as stultifying and nullifying the teaching authority of our divine Master. If this were the true view of Christianity, then it appeared to me that men were in little better case now than they were before Christ came at all.

An authority, therefore, teaching with divinely-protected inerrancy, which could assure me that this was false and that was true, with the same certainty as our Lord assured his companions–for I felt that we had as much right to certainty in matters of religion as the first disciples–this was what I wanted. Precisely this was what no Protestant authority gave me; what, in fact, they expressly declared they could not give. This seemed to them almost anticipating the last day when the Messiah would “come and tell us all things.” There was much, they said, in regard to which we must be content to remain in the dark, much that was obscure and uncertain and would be cleared up only in heaven.

Now, I did not want to be in the dark about anything when l thought I could be in possession of the light. I had been in the dark long enough–about thirty years, to be precise. I knew that the true Light had come into the world, enlightening all who wished to be enlightened. I felt certain that that Light, so far from shining with dazzling brilliancy for thirty-three years and then being extinguished, was shining still as brilliantly, to illuminate my darkness, if only I could come to it. As it was not shining in the Protestant Church, the probability was that it was to be found in the Catholic Church.

At all events the Catholic Church was the only Christian body on earth that claimed to have the light and the truth and to give it with infallible certainty. That was so much in her favor, to begin with, so much to attract the inquiring and dissatisfied soul, for a sick man turns away from a physician who proclaims his incapacity to cure him and appeals to the doctor who claims that he has a remedy that will prove effectual.

Examining, then, the “claims of Rome,” I saw, from my reading of history, that she was the only Church that could reasonably and plausibly pretend to speak with authority, because she was the only one that could trace her ascent back to the apostles. She was emphatically apostolic. You could tell the day and the place and the circumstances of the rise of every other church in history and could name the very men who took the foremost part in founding it. But you could not point to any date or place when the Catholic Church took its origin except that occasion when our Lord said to Peter: “Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.” Here was a Church which came to me with a genealogy that could not be questioned, which could trace her family history back to Jesus Christ himself, which could justly boast of an unbroken, continuous growth from the seed to the great tree and from childhood to manhood. There was solid, matter-of-fact proof on hand of her genuineness and antiquity.”

— Rev. Henry G. Graham on the issue of authority as it related to his conversion from a minister in the Church of Scotland to the Catholic Church

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