After reading Francis de Sales’ work on essentially the same topics, this book was very disappointing. I have very little good to say about it, to the point that I have to intersperse my positive comments among my negative comments. I shall endeavor to be as succinct as possible.
There are a number of typos in this book; there is inconsistent capitalization of divine pronouns (at one place “he,” at another “He,” both referring to God or Jesus Christ), missing prepositions, mistyped words (“is” instead of “it” or vice versa), and even one place where “whom” is written, but it really should be “who.” And in the title itself, “is” should be capitalized. (For anyone grammatically minded, the title is not otherwise incorrect; even though Mr. Rose did not use the subjunctive “If Protestantism Were True,” he poses his arguments as factual, not counterfactual, so the indicative “If Protestantism Is True” is correct.)
Other than typography, there are two root issues in this book which pervade its content and produce every other complaint I have. These are the problems of audience and rhetoric.
Mr. Rose cannot seem to decide on his audience. Superficially, he is writing to curious Protestants, trying to convince them of the truth of Catholicism, but very little of the book seems effectively geared toward this purpose. In many places, it is much better suited to convincing Catholics to remain Catholic (i.e., not to become Protestant). Elsewhere, he seems to be admonishing Catholic educators for their shortcomings, and exhorting them to improve the catechesis of the faithful. In no place does he seem assured of his audience; if he doesn’t know to whom he’s writing, how can I know if he’s writing to me?
The second root issue is his rhetoric. This stems from the nature of his argumentation. Everything seems framed in a system of skepticism and incredulity, logically questioning every thought and doctrine until it proves itself. Probably, this comes from Mr. Rose’s youth as a staunch atheist, as well as the process by which he became Christian, then Catholic specifically. While that is unsurprising, Mr. Rose should realize that very few people fit into this mold. In fact, most people – especially religious and spiritual people of the evangelical Christian variety – think in purely emotional terms. “How does this make me feel?” they ask, or, “Does this offend my sensibilities?” Most people do not stop to consider the logical ramifications of their position, because to do so would often be unpleasant.
In short, this book is the author’s personal conversion experience masquerading as rhetoric.
Keeping in mind this disconnect in argumentative style (logical versus emotional), what Mr. Rose intends to be distant and methodical comes off as a harsh invective against Protestant theology. He uses evocative and emotional terms to describe (or, more accurately, ridicule) theological points. He does, on occasion, show a great deal of respect for Protestants and their efforts, but his manner of doing so reminds me of the old saying, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” He often praises Protestant endeavors to expand and strengthen the Kingdom of God (although it seems to me he should have opened the book with that praise, but he did not). Yet at the same time, much of the book (especially any paragraph that follows the phrase, “If Protestantism is true,” in italics) is a reductio ad absurdum for nearly every Protestant belief or argument. The book does not engage with genuine issues, but mocks straw men. This sort of under-the-belt treatment suggests that Catholicism is not strong enough to stand on its own, but must be defended by “fighting dirty” with fallacious arguments.
Another downside of this book being based entirely on his personal experience is his ignorance of Protestant belief. According to this book, he spent approximately one year as a Protestant, and since that time has been a Catholic for ten years. He has done extensive reading on the subject, but he barely lived his Protestant beliefs day-to-day. As a result, he does not understand the way born-and-bred Protestants think (or, at least, not as well as he thinks he does).
A major issue is his inherent misunderstanding of the Protestant view of authority. As suggested by his conclusion, most of the book is enforcing the notion that authority must exist, and must be followed. He emphasizes over and over against a series of arguments from origin, implying or claiming that if someone accepts the teachings of one person or group (such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, or the Anabaptists), that someone must accept all other teachings of that person or group as well. For example, if one rejects the perpetual virginity of Mary, as some Anabaptists did, one must also deny discussion of the Trinity, as some Anabaptists did. This is directly contrary to the very notion of Protestantism, i.e., that each Christian must decide for him-/herself what to believe.
Beyond that, he also lacks studious knowledge of Protestant theological doctrines. Some Protestant groups, for example, support prima Scriptura, the idea that Scripture is first among theological authorities, and that all other (potential) authorities must be measured by it. This is separate and distinct from sola Scriptura, which Mr. Rose ascribes to all Protestants, but more accurately describes only the Anabaptists and their intellectual descendants.
In another place, he points out that Protestants attest that public revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle, but claims that they do so with absolutely no Scriptural backing (and he spends two pages admonishing them for this). Clearly, he hasn’t read Revelation 22:19 or the many relevant interpretations thereof.
And then, ironically, he accuses Protestants at large (and even mentions one by name) of being as ignorant and insulting as he is.
There are still more rhetorical blunders among the pages of this small book. Let me close with just a few:
While it is emotionally and spiritually painful to consider, the idea that your opponent’s position would condemn millions of souls to Hell is not, in and of itself, an argument – yet Mr. Rose uses it as such on numerous occasions.
In one place, he is quick to point out that the Scriptures did not exist as such until long after the death of the last Apostle – and yet, in another place, he acts as if John knew that his letters would become sacred Scripture, and that Apostle neglecting to include information in that letter meant that Tradition must be true. There are reasoned, Scriptural arguments in favor of Tradition; this isn’t one of them.
On a related note, he claims that Protestants dismiss unwritten sermons as “unknowable,” that their content was unimportant and therefore irrelevant. In so doing, Mr. Rose ignores that the Catholic Church, when deciding the New Testament canon, had certain writings of the Apostles (notably Paul) and determined them to be unnecessary for sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul wrote four letters to the church in Corinth, yet Scripture preserves only the first and the fourth (which we now call 1 and 2 Corinthians). If the Church left certain apostolic writings out of the canon, might it not be that God intended for a certain sermon to be left out? So may go a Protestant counter-argument.
Ironically, Mr. Rose concludes his book by encouraging his readers to follow the Protestant model of authority, and decide for themselves where the fullness of truth resides.
Mr. Rose’s work is indicative of the mindset many Catholics have toward Protestant Christians. While this book may be useful to convince Catholics not to fall away from the Church, it is not likely to be effective among Protestants who are not already questioning everything they believe.