Why are all Protestants uneducated in Christian history?


Why are Protestants uneducate in Christian history? Most of them have no clue about Early Church Fathers. I hate to say this but they sure seem to be afraid of it.


I think it’s painting with a broad brush to say they are all ignorant. JND Kelly wrote some good books on Christian history (after reading passages from them I can’t understand how he remained Protestant though–he makes a great case for Catholicism :shrug: )


I don’t necessarily think that is true, it depends on denomination, background, education etc. Many Protestant pastors have studied patristics extensively, if in some cases, selectively. I just noted on another website an article by a professor of patristics at Baylor University. I would be wary of using such a generalized question as a thread title, sounds too much like “why do so many XXX beat their wives?” You must first establish the veracity of the claim before you can ascribe it to a large population and then ask for comment about the claim.


You just have not encountered enough Protestants yet. There are many, even on this forum, who know a lot about Christian history, including a poster who writes for a Christian history periodical.


As a former Protestant, I agree that pretty much all the Protestants I ever met knew very little about the Church prior to 1500. The general impression you get from Protestants is that the Christian world began in that century of the Reformation. I’m sure there are many very educated Protestants who are very expert in early Church and European history. But then, history can be interpreted a variety of ways. And, people see things thru the lens they’ve selected.


Uh… people in glass houses should not cast stones.**

The average Catholic doesn’t know squat about the ECFs either, has never read their writings, and does not have any idea how they built the church and shaped it.

Ask a Catholic on Sunday who St. Athanasius is and why he was important in the Catholic Church… blank stares. Who is St. Ignatius of Antioch and what letters did he write? St. Clement of Rome? Polycarp? Many will have heard of Augustine and his saintly mother Monica, but not know his significance to early Church doctrine or have read his writings.

Honestly, ignorance shows no partiality.


Not all are ignorant of Church History, they simply ignore its implications, as I did for a long time.

“To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant”
-John Henry Cardinal Newman


The important word is “deep.” Lots of people know a little something about history, but have many facts wrong, or are missing facts. A good example is the character J.D. Martinez who wrote that article someone linked to that stated that the Catholic Church added the Aprocrapha to the Bible in the 16th century. Good heavens! The scary thing is, an awful lot of Protestants actually believe that. And many Protestants have only a dim idea of where the Bible came from.

When I was a Protestant, I had absolutely no idea where the Bible came from. And didn’t much care. As far as I knew, the Bible just fell out of the sky one day, leather bound, words of Christ in red. I don’t remember ever asking any of my Protestant friends questions about origins. If I’d known about the history of the Bible earlier, I’m sure I’d have become Catholic much earlier than I did.


I have to agree with the OP. I was evangelical Protestants for over 40 years, and I had never heard of ECFs. If you had used this term around me, I would have said Luther. I didn’t even know about Calvin until I turned 40.

As to why this is–I asked a Catholic convert from the Baptist faith, a professor. He said, “If they studied the ECFs, they would all become Catholic. So that’s why the Protestant churches don’t study them.”

I think there’s a lot of truth in his pronouncment.

I honestly think the real reason, though, is that the Protestant, at least the evangelical Protestant churches, are too busy teaching people about the Bible, which they consider to be totally sufficient for all spiritual education. Evangelical Protestants are often committed to church activities 4-6 days/nights per week. To add yet ANOTHER class on “Early Church Fathers” would be overwhelming.

HOWEVER–I think a lot of evangelical Protestants would be interested in a “Short Term” study on ECFS. A lot of us knew that “something” happened between 90 A.D. (death of John) and the Reformation. So if a Catholic man or lady offered such a small group study in their home, and limited it to four weeks and called it a “survey” and even better, used a PROTESTANT textbook (try Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley), I honestly think there might be some interest if they approached evangelical Christians. For all those who have that kind of teaching gift, give it a try.


:thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

Indeed - it is simply not true to say “all Protestants” are “uneducated in Christian history”. Perhaps the thread starter would like to say why the Synod of Dort is so important :smiley: - or, if that event is too obscure, what Americanism was. Americanism was a US thing, in US Catholicism, which happened not that long ago - long after the Reformation.

The point being - to be deep in Church history amounts to a lot more than knowing the names of a few Fathers & their usefulness for apologetics; knowledge can help one be Catholic, or, it can lead one out of the CC: as has happened. At any rate, it is never enough to make a Catholic (or a Christian of any kind) - that is the work of grace, not knowledge. “Knowledge puffs up, but charity builds up”, in St. Paul’s words - knowing all that can be known about every council under the sun will not keep a single soul from hell; only grace, faith, hope & love do that

There is an awful lot in Christian history, a huge amount; :smiley: - so it is simply not fair to criticise people for ignorance of William Whittingham, Jerome Zanchi, or Amyraldism - unless they are not only Calvinists, but students of Reformed dogmatics or history. Just as most Catholics will probably never have heard of Hippolytus of Rome, & fewer still will know that there has been debate about whether he was one man or two, & that he is listed in some texts as a bishop of Rome. If they love God because He loves them, they are doing what matters most.

Most people have more pressing things to do than study every nook & cranny of St.Augustine; it won’t pay the bills or change a baby’s nappies.


In a high school class I had called “Worldview” (went to a non denominational Christian school), we used that book. I recommend it, though I also warn that it is a very PROTESTANT book. While it does speak a lot about the Church Fathers, it also views the development of the Catholic Church, the Episcopacy, etc, as taking wrong turns.


I was given a book called Biblical Authority: Critical Issue for the Body of Christ by our highschool youth director at my Baptist church, and it quoted the Church Fathers for an entire chapter, getting their various views on biblical inerrancy and authority and whatnot. Of course, it left out the fact that unlike most Baptists, they were not (Augustine stands out to me here) biblical literalists. Then in the next chapter, it skipped, like, a few hundred years and starting quoting Protestants (mainly Baptists). I was thinking, “Allllllrrrrriiiiiiiightie then …” The shift was quite absurd, and not as subtle as I suspect the author intended it to be.

Anyway, to answer the question posed in the thread title: It’s not hard to be Protestant armed only with what’s in the Scriptures (the Word, of course, being vulnerable to all kinds of ridiculous, ludicrous interpretations), but armed also with history, I would say one would have to be just outright purposefully ignorant not to be a Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox, I suppose).


I am confused, are you Catholic? Orthodox? Something entirely different?


I’m a just your avergage antidisestablishmentarian trying to find a place in the religious world. I call my brand of Christianity “Christians-For-The-Abolishment-of-Long-Winded-And-Pointless-Denominational-Titles” CFTAOLWAPDT, for short. :smiley:

Okay, so no. Just kidding.

I am a former Protestant and currently un-Catechised Christian. I wish very much to be initiated into the Catholic Church … but unfortunately, my mom is against the idea. She is a traditional Southern Baptist, and if I’d have to guess she’s convinced it’s some type of idolatry, a religious institution that prides itself on its worship of Mary and the Pope … Even my sister, a non-Christian, was upset by the idea, saying, “Wait! No! They can’t even go straight to God! They have to … like, go through Mary or someone …” I pointed out that this was a misconception.

Anyway, as of now, my conversion is too “inconvenient” for my mom’s taste, as the nearest parish I’ve shown an interest in is a little ways away. sigh Anyway, I was a passionate non-denominational Protestant attending a Baptist church on Sundays and Mass every now and again on Saturdays when I showed up hereo on the forums at first, though.


Any person, whether Catholic or Protestant, can be very familiar with the Early Church Fathers, but they will often only glean from it that which supports the doctrines which they already believe. I had one friend (Protestant Pastor) who had read St Augustine and did not conclude anything Catholic about it. Whatever your viewpoint, you will tend to read from that perspective.

I began a search on the Early Church a couple of years ago and as a Protestant, it alarmed me that most resources pointed to the Catholic Church. Because I had become very cynical of the North American style church at the time, everything I believed had come under scrutiny for me. Consequently, I read with a more open mind and I wasn’t looking for something to support my ideas…I was simply searching for Truth. I wanted to know what the Early Church believed and how they conducted themselves in those beliefs.

I’ve been in Protestant churches for over 20 years, and very few that I’ve met are very familiar with the Early Church Fathers. Doctrinally, they are very narrowly focused on only that which is “spelled out” in Scripture. They do not readily accept the writings of the Early Church Fathers as doctrinally binding…they only view it as helpful at best.

That being said, most Catholics I’ve met are very unfamiliar with what the Catholic Church teaches as well.

Thus far, my findings are that the Catholic Church seems to have a greater Truth and they are better able to defend those Truths as a Church. But generally speaking, Protestant individuals tend to be better prepared to defend their doctrines (erroneous or not) than Catholic individuals are - and I say this with all due respect to the Catholics who post here at this forum - you are the exception. That is why I come here with my questions rather than to the average parishiner.



Not all Protestants are uneducated in Church History, but unfortunately some (particularly I’ve noticed in the fundamentalist camp) don’t know as much as they should about the history of the church, or get a very biased and polemical view which tries to prove doctrines like Sola Fide and Sola Scripta.

When I was a Protestant I studied the history of the Church very carefully, and found that the CC and the Orthodox Church were far closer to what Biblical Christianity was meant to be, and also established good ways of keeping out things like Gnosticism which were very contrary to what Christianity is about (as St Iranaeus brilliantly demonstrated in his works).

Protestants should be encouraged to study the early church as much as possible, and see how Christianity was not just about ‘believing the Bible’ but also about being a member of Christ’s body, the church, and partaking in the sacraments.


**Using the word “all” is an inappropriate generalization.

Also, if one was to survey Protestants and Catholics in general, I frankly don’t think that Protestants are any less uneducated in Christian history than are Catholics. Perhaps there is research on this.


I have a Protestant friend who told me, “Our minister taught us Christian history. He began with Martin Luther.”

I couldn’t help thinking this was like saying, “Our professor taught us American history. He began with World War II.”


I would venture to say that sometimes, Protestants come up with an “idea,” and then skim through “church history” to find support for their “idea.”

An example would be the current surge of interest in Protestant churches in lectio divina. There have been several articles in Protestant periodicals and also presentations on the radio and in our local churches. It’s becoming the newest “fad.” (Purpose-Driven was one of the old fads, but interest is waning.)

Protestants who write those articles or do those sermons find a few pieces of Christian history that make lectio divina acceptable to Protestants. They pick and choose bits and pieces from history.

The same thing happened with “centering prayer” and “labyrinths” and "use of candles during worship services (this is not normally done in evangelical churches, although it is normal in the mainline Protestant churches), Gregorian chant, “the blessing,” etc.

I’ve seen this happen with doctrines, too. A Protestant will read up on a Church father and find support for their “doctrine.” For example, I’ve seen so many Protestants use Jerome to PROVE that the Deuterocanonical books are merely apocryphal and shouldn’t be in the Scriptural canon. What they don’t bother to read is that Jerome submitted to the Church, which declared that the Deuterocanonical books ARE part of Scriptural Canon. This would tend to support the idea that the CHURCH is the authority, not the Scriptures.

Protestants are “bandwagon” people (my term). They jump on the latest bandwagon and ride along picking up other Protestants (and the fallen-away Catholics) until another cooler-looking bandwagon drives by. Then they all jump off the old bandwagon and run to catch up with the new bandwagon.

I’m sorry if this sounds uncomplimentary to my Protestant brothers and sisters in the Lord. Remember, I was evangelical Protestant for over 40 years, and I watched a lot of bandwagons roll by. I jumped on my share of them, too. But in the 1990s, I started questioning a lot of the bandwagons. Other Protestants told me that I was being negative and divisive. Of course I was.

Several years ago, before I even thought about becoming Catholic, I wrote out a list of 17 Problems with Protestantism, and “Bandwagons” were on that list.

The problem is, history must be studied as a whole, not a part. You can’t just pick and choose the good Protestant parts, and then ignore the “disturbing” Catholic parts!


What is lecto divina?

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