History Brought Me Home
By Dustin Mantz
” I started reading Augustine’s Confessions and found myself hanging on the edge of my seat, screaming inside, “This is me! This is me!”
And then, I found out he was — gasp — a Catholic! All of a sudden, everything my wife had been saying about looking into the Catholic Church, about the saints … it all came rushing back to my mind in a heartbeat.”- Dustin Mantz
I was born and raised in the small town of Huntsville, about 60 miles north of Houston, Texas. I was not brought up in a particularly Christian household. My mother had attended Sunday worship services in various faith traditions throughout her childhood, all stemming from Calvinistic theology with an evangelical twist. My father was a disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness, who rarely spoke of any sort of faith. So, as one could imagine, I grew up in a rather secular household with some moral standards, but no moral lawgiver.
Giving God a chance
When I was 15, I started dating a young woman whose grandfather was a United Methodist pastor and, although he had left the active ministry, she still faithfully attended the church that he had previously served. After much poking and prodding, I gave in to her invitations and attended a service with her. Since I grew up in a secular household, I had developed some anti-Christian sentiments over the years. However, something spoke to me at that service. The “low liturgical” feel of the United Methodist Church (UMC) service appealed to something deep inside me.
Encountering a Church Father
It was then that Augustine of Hippo entered my life. Who would have thought that a man who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries would have such a profound impact on little ol’ me? I started reading Augustine’s Confessions and found myself hanging on the edge of my seat, screaming inside, “This is me! This is me!”
And then, I found out he was — gasp — a Catholic! All of a sudden, everything my wife had been saying about looking into the Catholic Church, about the saints … it all came rushing back to my mind in a heartbeat.
It was with Augustine that my Catholic search started. I became skeptical of every denomination. I went from thinking that the United Methodist Church had finally got the Bible right, to rigorously questioning every Christian theology, every doctrine, every leader, and every church. I started looking into, not only the Catholic Church, but also other Protestant claims to truth. I started studying all this theology and was thinking to myself, “Okay, I can see how all of this can come from Scripture, but what about the early guys? I mean, if Augustine in the 300s was Catholic, there had to be something there, right?”
With this thought, I purchased a copy of Catholicism for Dummies and the Penguin Classics’ Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, which contained the life-changing Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans. While reading through the used copy of the Early Christian Writings I had bought off Amazon.com, I found there was only one sentence underlined in the entire book. It was the famous phrase “Where the bishop is, let there people be in much the same way wherever Jesus Christ is there too is the Catholic Church.”
This was earth-shattering, to say the least. Here was a man writing in the earliest times of Christendom speaking of the Catholic Church, and I could find nothing in historical writings of the United Methodist Church. Furthermore, all these Catholic doctrines that I was having trouble overcoming, such as the Eucharist, purgatory, and the veneration of Mary, I read about it in the earliest, existing Christian writings! There was nothing about sola scriptura in these early writings, since the full canon of Old and New Testaments had yet to be compiled. Now, I wasn’t merely faced with Augustine and Ignatius, but after careful study of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and the Post-Nicene Fathers, I came to realize that every single Catholic/Orthodox belief could be found in the earliest years of Christianity. The beliefs might not have been profoundly worded like in the Catechism of today, but they were there, and they were believed.