These are very good questions! They were some of the questions I pondered prior to becoming Catholic from within the Protestant Tradition.
Not every Protestant believes in the doctrine of Sola Fide. The denomination I spent the majority of my faith during my informative years was in a Pentecostal church. It is very much so faith alone but the caveat that with “faith that produces good fruit”… so faith alone yes but it is only faith that can lead to good fruit. So if one does not produce good fruit it is because of lack of faith or an immature faith.
When you mention some of these “Great Reformers” and what Protestants believe concerning the Church from the time The Church was birthed and until Martin Luther… to be honest, I don’t think many folks within the Protestant Tradition know a whole lot about The Early Church. Their only understanding is the Bible they read and of course teachings from their own trusted sources… I mean, the idea to actually start reading The Early Church Father’s seems to some a pointless thing to do. So they may think. All this to say is that there’s a wide range and diverse view points that many within the Protestant Tradition have pending on whether or not they have come to believe the debunked anti-Catholic propaganda. Many falsely believe anti-Catholic propaganda so for some it is believed that The Early Church began to fall away from absolute truth and start worshipping Mary and The Saints and practice other forms of idolatry shortly after the original 12 disciples. It is believed that throughout time God kept for Himself a remnant few who stood faithfully to the truth despite the increasing corrupt church Jesus originally founded. Of course, this is what some Protestant’s believe but not all. So, when they come across Early Teaching that seems to be compatible with what the currently believe in their own translation of Sacred Scripture then they’ll elevate such teachings gladly. It is my observation however, when Protestants find such golden nuggets of historical teachings it’s stir something within their own hearts to dig deeper. However, if they choose not to dig deeper then they’ll just in some way or other try to deflect away from the obvious contradictory and will hyper focus on what they believe is idol worship and/or praying to Mary and Saints which many within the Protestant tradition view as idol worship. They’ll hyper focus on what they believe to be error in teaching before they’ll look into what would actually debunk their mislead beliefs of the Catholic Church.
It is my opinion however, if we wish to reveal the greater truths found within the Catholic Church it is far better to find areas we share in common first. I mean, Protestant’s for the most part have a partial truth. When you find commonality in the beliefs we share and respect their faith and relationship with Jesus building a bridge that may create opportunity to correct some of their mislead beliefs about the Catholic Church becomes possible. My journey into the Catholic Church was a 25 year journey. You just never really know the impact you’ll have when fellowshipping and engaging in dialogue with Protestant believers.
Learn more about the basics of what Protestant believers have difficulty with…
- Mary and the Saints
- Praying the Rosary - why and what is it?
- Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura
- Sacred Tradition along with Sacred Scripture
When you can cause a Protestant believe to honestly question their belief in the authority of Sacred Scripture alone and effectively communicate how Sacred Tradition is just as authoritative then you enable the Protestant believer to start honestly thinking about what they believe and why they believe what they believe. It took me many years to realize that when I spoke of the authority of Scripture what I was really talking about was my own fallible interpretation of Sacred Scripture. It’s quite earth shattering, it turns your world around when you even just think about the fact that our private interpretation of Sacred Scripture could be wrong. A Protestant’s whole faith journey is dependent upon their “skilled interpretation” of Sacred Scripture and so when presented with the possibility of having erred with the interpretation of Sacred Scripture it could actually be enough for the individual to go into an existential crisis. So, I wouldn’t so much focus on what Protestant’s believe regarding The Early Church just because there’s such a wide range and diverse beliefs among Protestant’s but if you can honestly question the basic questions that most Protestant’s have than in dialogue you can ask them what their views are. And when you do, have a few quotes from the Early Church Father’s ready to be quoted and include the era they lived in. If you can quote Early Church Father’s from the 2nd and 3rd Century that prove Catholic Teaching today is the same as it was in the 2nd and 3rd Century of the Church then you’ll have enough to debunk some of their misguided beliefs.