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Protestantism and Non-Christian Religions

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American Protestantism Today

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The purpose of this course is manifoId. As the title indicates there is a conflict between what we call Catholicism and Protestantism. It is over four hundred years old. But much has happened since October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door at Wittenberg. For our purpose, the Second Vatican Council opened the doors to an ecumenical relationship between Catholics and other Christians that is certainly part of the will of God for all of us.

More specifically, our intention is to derive five benefits from this course in American Protestantism Today. We hope to better understand not just the individual Protestant denominations but Protestantism as it has developed in the last five centuries. We wish to see what Protestantism and Catholicism have in common; this will of course differ, depending on the respective Protestant denominations. We want to see how we can cooperate with Protestants in a variety of social and humanitarian programs without compromising on our own principles of faith, morals and sacramental liturgy. We should learn what Protestants need in order to grow in their own faith and love of Jesus Christ, since we have so much to offer them from our own Catholic heritage. And finally we need the grace to know how authentic ecumenism can be fostered by building on the rock foundation of the Church which Christ brought into being by His death on Calvary.

The textbook for the course is Christianity In Conflict. Although first published before the Second Vatican Council, this book is an in-depth analysis of the principal areas of agreement and difference between Roman Catholicism and contemporary Protestantism. The classes will follow each chapter of the book in sequence up to chapter nine on "Doctrinal Variations." The last three chapters are to be read by the students on their own initiative.

Over the years of teaching Protestantism in their divinity schools, I found their one desire is to learn all they can about the history, faith and moral doctrines of the Catholic Church. It is not an exaggeration to say that they are deeply hungry for understanding the religious tradition from which their churches departed in the sixteenth century. Certainly this hunger is part of the providence of God. On our part, we should learn as much as we can about the beliefs and practices of sincere Protestants in some four thousand denominations throughout the world. The more we know about those whom we call our separated brethren, the better we shall understand our own faith and be able to share with them what they need. Our Lord s prayer at the Last Supper, "I pray...that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me."(John I7:22).

Needless to say, this course in not merely an academic exercise in comparative religion. It is meant to inspire us with such deep love for our own Catholic faith that we will want to share this treasure with so many in our country who are also Christians but who need what we can give them.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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