Protestant “Verses” Catholic

30 Sep

A Catholic school teacher once posed this question to me: “Protestants always have signs, t-shirts, billboards, and the like with John 3:16, so it seems that for them that is the one definitive verse of the Bible. If you had to sum up the Catholic faith in one Bible verse or passage, what would it be?”

Since today is the feast of St. Jerome (347-419), the patron saint of Scripture scholars and the renowned translator of the Vulgate edition of the Bible, I thought I would share with readers my answer to this intriguing question, and also invite the commentary and suggestions of others.

I began by acknowledging that Protestants and Catholics alike rightly emphasize John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

It’s a beautiful verse that succinctly captures much of the Gospel message or, in more technical terms, the Gospel kerygma. It shows God’s love for the world, the shared divinity of Father and Son, Our Lord’s saving mission, the necessity of faith, and the goal of eternal life–not bad for just one verse! Catholics do well to proclaim that verse in season and out–and yes, memorize it!

While affirming that Scripture should be read in context as part of a cohesive message from God to us, I did come up with six other verses or passages that I think are especially significant for Catholics and indeed for all who believe in Christ:

(1a) 1 John 3:1—See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

(1b) Galatians 4:4-7—But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.

Okay, I cheated by pairing up those two passages. What has always struck me about these passages and others like them are the fact that we experience the “eternal life” spoken of in John 3:16 as true sons and daughters of God, as what St. Peter describes as being “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Our “sonship” is a present reality, which among other things makes us “heirs” of the fullness of eternal life in heaven. I think these verses also help us to understand the problem with a “once saved, always saved” theology that implicitly denies the freedom we have as children of God to turn away from our heavenly Father through mortal sin.

(2) Acts 2:42—And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

These four activities are described as the principal activities of the first Christians, and they continue to be the pillars of the Christian life today. In fact, they are expressed in the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which reflects the basic structure of the Church’s catechetical tradition. Namely, “apostles’ teaching” refers to the Creed; “breaking of the bread” refers specifically to the Eucharist and more generally to the Sacraments; “fellowship” refers to Christian morality and a Christian understanding of the Ten Commandments; and “the prayers” refers to Prayer, typically summarized by the Our Father.

(3) Philippians 2:5-11—Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I have always been especially moved by this passage. Also, scholars generally believe that St. Paul is here quoting an ancient Christian hymn, which also demonstrates the role of Tradition and the function of the liturgy as the Church’s “memory” of what God has done for us through His Son.

(4) Matthew 5-7—Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

This is much longer, but it is truly the “Magna Charta” of the life Christ calls us to lead. Here we see Christ as the New Moses giving us a New Law. While Moses brought the Old Law down to us from Mt. Sinai, Our Lord takes the crowd (and us) up on the mountain to give us His blueprint for our eternal happiness or “beatitude.”

(5) Matthew 28:18-20—And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

These are the instructions of Christ to His Church before His Ascension. He instructs His Church to go out and make disciples–baptizing and teaching with His authority, and also promising His continual presence in His Church.

(6) John 12:24–Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

This has long been one of my favorites. I once heard that Fyodor Dostoevski’s masterpiece novel Brothers Karamazov was intended as a commentary (a thousand-page one!) on this profound little verse, which reminds us that we have to die with Christ and pour ourselves out for others in order to attain the fullness of life. What an amazing paradox!

Obviously many other passages or verses can be cited. Honorable mention would surely go to Matthew 16:18 (“You are Peter . . . “), John 1:14 (“The Word became flesh”), and portions of John 6 relating to the Eucharist, but in the end I’m satisfied with my list.

Let me know what verses or passages would be at the top of your list!

7 Responses to “Protestant “Verses” Catholic”

  1. Mike September 30, 2011 at 3:52 am #

    Thanks for sharing. I like your choices. I’m always struck by the prologue of St. John’s gospel (John 1:1-18). I know you gave John 1:17 an honorable mention, but It’s so incarnational. We experience our world through our bodies, and Jesus chose to do so as well. We, as Catholics, celebrate and practice our faith using all of our senses.

    There is also the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) where the disciples experienced Christ’s presence though his breaking open the Scriptures and breaking of the Bread, as we continue to experience Christ’s presence with us at Mass in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

    Given the Catholic Church’s constant and impassioned moral and social teaching, affirming in all times and all places, the dignity of the person, I might also honorably mention Genesis 1:27, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created hem.” It might fit in pretty well with our being adopted sons and daughters of God as you noted in 1a and 1b.

  2. Random Friar September 30, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    1John 1-4.
    What was from the beginning,
    what we have heard,
    what we have seen with our eyes,
    what we looked upon
    and touched with our hands
    concerns the Word of life—
    for the life was made visible;
    we have seen it and testify to it
    and proclaim to you the eternal life
    that was with the Father and was made visible to us
    what we have seen and heard
    we proclaim now to you,
    so that you too may have fellowship with us;
    for our fellowship is with the Father
    and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
    We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.

  3. Leon Suprenant September 30, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    I love the beginning of John’s Gospel and first letter. The Emmaus Road episode in Luke 24 was a great honorable mention as well.

  4. Nicole October 8, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    I don’t really understand why protestants should be any sort of standard of behavior for Catholics. The protestants lack the key to open the scriptures (the Church Fathers and the Magisterium, i.e., authority); all they exhibit is “as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor. ch. 13 vs. 1) when they expound chapter and verse: that is, a pleasant noise with no substance or meaning to them beyond temporal benefit.

    Catholicism is the standard, protestantism is the deviation.

    It would seem to me that the better question to ask is: Why do the protestants proof-text when the Holy Mother Church does not?

  5. Leon Suprenant October 8, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Hi Nicole. I hear what you’re saying. Three quick points for your consideration:

    (1) Even though as Catholics we have access to the “fullness of truth,” the Church encourages us to find and build on points of unity with others who aren’t Catholic. Some Protestants put Catholics to shame in their devotion to and understanding of the Bible. We can be edified by them without in any way compromising our faith. The Magisterium has emphasized that ecumenism and the “new evangelization” are key elements of the Church’s life these days, so we need to be on the lookout for ways to engage others in a positive way.

    (2) Elsewhere I’ve talked about proof-texting. We don’t want to do that. Yet, it is good for us to have verses that we can meditate on and draw inspiration from. Just because one verse doesn’t say it all doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, as the prophet says, “devour” the words of Scripture.

    (3) Lastly, I wasn’t necessarily holding up Protestants as a model of behavior. Rather, I was asking us to think about ways to quickly “get to the point” when it comes to explaining our Catholic faith to others. In conversation we don’t have hours to unpack the entire Catechism to people. Rather, we need to be able to proclaim, naturally and intelligibly, the core of the Gospel in minutes or even seconds. Having a verse that gives us an entry can be very helpful, especially when talking with people who accept the authority of the Bible. Of course, none of that should replace personal witness and testimony . . .

    • Nicole October 8, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

      I understand all what you replied to me, and, thank you for your reply, Mr. Suprenant.

      I am a quite sensitive to the protestant/Catholic issues due to the ambiguity in regard to religion in my upbringing…and I may not have weighed my words as I had wished to do so. If I offended you in any way, I am most sorry. I did not intend to offend anyone, merely to state my disatisfaction with the apparent lukewarmness in regard to protestants and what is most often their misuse and abuse of the Sacred Scriptures.

  6. Leon Suprenant October 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    Nicole, absolutely no offense taken, and your comments are always welcome here. As you kniow, the best way to overcome the “apparent lukewarmness” we see around us is to live the faith vibrantly and authentically ourselves–quite a challenge!

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