I am a Protestant Evangelical considering joining the Catholic Church. I am familiar with the oft-quoted phrase of John Henry Cardinal Newman, “To be versed in history is to cease to be Protestant.” Having read many of the Early Church Fathers, I tend to agree. But I have a dilemma: If this is really true, how can there be so many Protestant church historians, even patristics scholars, who never join the Catholic Church? There is even a movement in some Evangelical churches to return to the “ancient traditions,” but at the same time they shun the Catholic Church. Since I will never have the opportunity to know as much as these scholars about Church history, what, in your opinion, should I do to resolve this dilemma?
Newman’s maxim is not intended to be a “rule” that those Protestants versed in Church history “must” enter the Catholic Church. It is only a general observation that Church history argues against Protestantism and that those Protestants who study history deeply many times realize that the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ.
In the end though, belief in the truth of Catholicism is a gift of faith given by God that must be accepted and acted upon by the recipient in order for the recipient to become Catholic. With Protestant historians, it may be that some, for whatever reason of divine providence, were not given that gift; or that those who were given that gift could not, in conscience, accept it or act upon it for some reason. We must entrust such people to God’s mercy, trusting that if these individuals follow him to the best of their ability according to the light of truth that they have, it may be possible for them to achieve salvation.