Scripture and the Church speak eloquently about how a greater good can come from every trial and suffering that we face. The bigger the trial, the bigger the blessing that's just around the corner.1
So, from a Catholic perspective, what good came from the trial and suffering of the Protestant Reformation? And what good can come from being a Protestant? We might speculate that God allowed Protestantism, even with its theological defects, to be the means by which thousands would be saved during a time when pride and arrogance might otherwise have swept them away.
Is that possible? I think so. For, as a Catholic convert I attribute my own justification to my upbringing in Evangelical Christianity. Without it I may never have proclaimed my faith in God's grace. I am not trying to marginalize Catholicism but simply to acknowledge, as then-Cardinal Ratzinger states in Dominus Jesus, that "the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using [Protestantism] as a means of salvation."2
There is another good that came out of the Protestant Reformation: with the separation from the Church the distinctive ideas of the Reformers were easier to identify as being contrary to the Catholic Faith.
A peculiarity of the centuries-old Protestant/Catholic debate, is that it centers on attempts to define what Catholics believe or what the Church got wrong. Rarely is it about what Protestants believe. The reason for this is simple: Catholic teaching is a fixed target that doesn't move; it is the object against which protestors shove. If Catholicism were to move, there would less shoving. But it stands stalwart as Christ prophesized.3
On the other hand, it does little good to protest Protestantism, because whenever someone shoves, it moves, and a new church is begun. Protestantism, therefore, is a collection of wide ranging beliefs that cannot be easily pined-down nor examined systematically. Historically, the crux of the protest is what the Catholic Church really teaches, or what Catholics are supposed to really believe. For instance, it is easy to find websites who try to explain what Catholics believe by stating that "ROMAN Catholicism is the MOTHER of harlots and abominations."4
One way around this labyrinth of confusion and misrepresentation is to talk or listen to a well-educated person who has had the benefit of being Protestant and then become Catholic. Such a person, if they are a gifted communicator, can cut through the equivocation and semantic confusion and find the truth.
Dr. Ray Guarendi is such a man: he is a master communicator, radio and television personality, esteemed clinical psychologist, and author, who returned to Catholicism after 10 years as an Evangelical Protestant.
The greater good that came out of his Protestant "tenure" was a Catholic faith built on reason that his training only served to secure. As a Protestant, little-by-little, Guarendi became uncomfortable with the inconsistencies he found. He was told that Protestant churches agreed on the basics of Christianity. But he discovered that different churches used different sets of basics. He asked himself, if these churches were to agree on the basics, who decides what the basics are? But he also discovered that even when the basics were the same, the beliefs were often different. Protestant Christianity also claims to hold up the Bible as the inerrant and infallible basis for truth, but every pastor Guarendi talked to had a different interpretation of what that truth was.
Most distressing to Dr. Guarendi, the father of 10 adopted children, was the wide differences of opinion between Protestant churches about when life began, and whether or not abortion was okay. Almost all Evangelical churches claimed that life began at conception, but these same churches said using the pill for contraception was morally acceptable, even though some Evangelical church leaders knew that the pill could be an abortifacient.
More confusing was what he was being told by his Protestant pastor about what Catholics really believed. Growing up in the Catholic Church, as he did, he never paid that much attention to matters of faith or morals. But what he was hearing from Protestant sources seemed just as inconsistent as the teachings from one Protestant Church to the next.
As a trained researcher, Dr. Ray began to look back at the Catholic Church, and ask what the Church taught. Where Protestants had dramatically changed their minds on the moral acceptability of the pill over the last 100 years, the Catholic Church, even before there was scientific evidence of its ability to be an abortifacient, rejected all forms of artificial contraception. He began to read the Early Church Fathers, and the writings of the Holy Fathers. In every case, within Catholicism, he found consistency of teaching about issues of faith and morals; whereas within Protestantism, there were differences about such basics as baptism, the Trinity, Scriptural interpretation, morality, and when leaders were infallible.
The greater good of Ray Guarendi being a Protestant came years later after he returned to Catholicism. Now, with both a seasoned understanding of Protestant Christianity and Catholicism, he decided to use his talents, and those of his pastor, Fr. Kevin Fete, to produce a television series he titled What Catholics Really Believe.
The uniqueness of the series is that it examines Protestant perceptions of Catholic teachings by first examining Scripture, and then it looks at the Catechism, the writers of the Early Church, and even a few Protestants scholars.
Today, after obtaining theological approval for being in total accord with Catholic teaching, the series is being broadcast across the country, and distributed on DVD around the world. Ray Guarendi wants to make sure that what he missed as a child and young man growing up in the church is not missed on his kid's generation.
What is the good of Protestantism in all this? First it was Evangelical Christianity that enlivened Ray's heart to live for Christ and confirm the effect of his Catholic baptism. Second, because of Protestantism's need to protest Catholicism, it pin-pointed for Ray the key principles of faith and morals that Protestants misunderstood and which needed to be clarified. And finally, it was because of his understanding of Protestant's viewpoint of Catholicism that he was able to produce the fabulous television and DVD series that today is teaching Catholics, around the world, What Catholics Really Believe.
Information about Dr. Ray Guarendi's DVDs on Catholicism is available through Nineveh's Crossing or www.DrRayDVD.com.
1 e.g. Romans 8:15-28, 2 Corinthians 4:8-15; 12:8-9), the Catechism declares that "richer fruits of the Spirit" can be produced through man's "hardships" (§ 901,§ 1508); and, most dramatically we have Christ's passion and death — the ultimate suffering for the greater good of salvation for all mankind.
2 Dominus Jesus (17.3).
3 Matthew 16:18.