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The Reformation is over. Protestants won. So why are we still here?

Roman Catholicism is rich and vibrant. But someone has to keep the Church honest.

Professor Stanley Hauerwas poses for a portrait in Duke Chapel at Duke University. (Andy McMillan/For The Washington Post)
Stanley Hauerwas, author of the forthcoming book “The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson,” is the Gilbert T. Rowe emeritus professor at Duke Divinity School.
In the 1950s, Pleasant Grove, Tex. (now southeast Dallas), where I grew up, was a white working-class town where Catholics did not exist. For me, the religious “others” were Southern Baptists, whose distinctiveness was summed up in their refusal to dance. Our world was a Protestant world, and I was a Protestant, because what else would I be? For years, this sentiment sufficed. Then I began to learn about Catholicism.
I have been thinking about Christianity for my whole life. I’ve spent my career as a Protestant theologian at the University of Notre Dame and Duke Divinity School. I have written many books on theology and ethics. But I still don’t know how to think about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this coming week. Divorces (some Christian traditions still call Luther’s revolt “the great schism”) are not to be celebrated; they leave a scar. The problem is that I, like many Protestants, don’t see the gulf between us and our Catholic brothers and sisters as particularly pronounced. The separation I once saw as default now makes less sense to me. Why am I not a Catholic?
My first inkling of this intellectual problem began as a philosophy major (actually, the philosophy major) at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Tex., where I was lucky enough to have a teacher to take me through Frederick Copleston’s multi-volume “History of Philosophy.” Copleston was a Jesuit, though at the time I had no idea what that meant. I began to grasp the distinctness and fullness of the Catholic tradition during my graduate work at Yale’s Divinity School. I attended with no intention to be ordained; I simply wanted to know if what Christians believed could be considered true. Even then, something about Catholicism seemed remote: The Second Vatican Council was underway, which meant we students read Catholic theologians — Rahner, Haring, de Lubac, Congar — on how theology should be done in modernity. But we barely took note of their faith. We also read Martin Luther and John Calvin, but we considered them late Medieval thinkers who had more in common with Thomas Aquinas than our divnity school mentors.
In short, the Reformation seemed to us to be “back there,” and I felt no need to defend Protestantism because it seldom occurred to me that being a Protestant was all that important or interesting.



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