When I was in graduate school working on early Christian literature, Robert Wilken’s book “The Christians as the Romans Saw Them” was important in shaping my approach. It was a privilege, then, to be able to take Wilken to lunch in Rome on June 4, as he finished up a guest course at the Gregorian University. Wilken is Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia.
Wilken, who was raised a Missouri Synod Lutheran, traveled a path into the Roman Catholic Church similar to that walked by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, well-known for his journal First Things. In fact, he and Neuhaus were classmates and were ordained together as Lutheran ministers. Both tried to uphold a vision of Lutheranism as a reform of the Catholic Church, hence they supported a “high-church” vision of liturgy, the episcopacy, and other matters.
Eventually, however, Wilken said, they became convinced that they were “living in a dream world,” that the Lutheranism they believed in didn’t really exist.
The argument that finally tipped the scales in terms of his decision to join the Ctaholic Church, Wilken said, was this. The Reformation presupposed that one could have apostolic faith through apostolic doctrine. The Catholic view, which he found persuasive, is that it is the community preserves the faith -- one needs not just doctrine, but a Church in which doctrine takes shape.