One Reason I Can’t Swim the Tiber

"Swimming the Tiber" is a euphemism for Roman Catholic conversion, as it is the river identified with the Vatican.

“Swimming the Tiber” is a euphemism for Roman Catholic conversion, as it is the river identified with the Vatican.

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 1

Commenting on the pastoral nature of the creeds and catechisms, Carl Trueman highlights a couple of the questions and answers in the Heidelberg Catechism, especially the way Q&A 1 highlights the heart of the Reformation:

Question 1 shows the glorious Reformation Protestant insight into the fact that assurance is to be the normal experience of every Christian believer and not merely the preserve of a few special saints who have been given extra-ordinary insight into their status before God, as was the medieval Catholic position.

This is perhaps one of the great Protestant insights of the Reformation. We live in an age where conversion to Roman Catholicism is not an uncommon thing among those who have been brought up as evangelicals. There are many reasons for this: some speak of being attracted by the beauty of the liturgy in comparison with what is often seen as a casual and irreverent flippancy in evangelical services; others like the idea of historical continuity, of knowing where the church has been throughout history; still others find the authority structure to be attractive in an age of flux and uncertainty. Whatever the reasons, most Protestants would concede that Rome has certain attractions. Nevertheless, the one thing that every Protestant who converts to Rome loses is the assurance of faith. –The Creedal Imperative, pg. 124

Lest people think Trueman is exaggerating, it must be remembered that Cardinal Bellarmine is reported to have written that assurance is the greatest of all Protestant heresies. Indeed, discussing the subject of assurance with one of my brilliant Catholic professors was one of the most challenging conversations I had in my undergaduate degree. She asked me repeatedly–not threateningly, but forcefully, the way a good philosopher should–how could I be so sure that I was going to be saved? It seemed so arrogant and, well, assured. I’m not sure I gave her the best answer I could have at the time–I mean, I was 20. Ironically though, I realized I was more assured of her salvation than she was.

Trueman continues:

The insight of the Reformation on assurance was key, theologically and pastorally. And, given that it is one thing that every convert to Roman Catholicism must lose, it’s worth noting its priority in the Heidelberg Catechism. The answer is beautifully phrased; and yet if one ceases to be a Protestant, one must cease to claim HC 1 as one’s own. That is a very high price to pay. Speaking for myself, all of the liturgical beauty of Rome, all of the tradition, all of the clarity of the authority structure (and the clarity is often, I think, more in the eye of the beholder than the Church itself) cannot compensate for the loss of the knowledge that I know I have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ that conversion to Rome requires. –Ibid, pg. 125

To be clear, I am not saying that my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are not saved, or are not actually united to Christ, or can’t experience the Spirit’s wonderful assurance; I know far too many beautifully Catholic people, including my professor, to make that mistake. I am pointing out that formally-speaking, I couldn’t claim it in the sense that the catechism teaches it.

That’s far too precious a thing for me to risk in those waters.

Soli Deo Gloria

2 thoughts on “One Reason I Can’t Swim the Tiber

  1. At the end of the day to be fair, there is a type of assurance we have as Catholics without assumption, and that is frequenting the sacraments especially confession,responding to God’s grace in daily living of the Christian life and aspiring toward theosis and higher, more intimate forms of prayer as experienced by the mystics.

    As Catholics we confidently say that we have been saved (by the suffering, death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ), that we are being saved (persevering in that state of grace and keeping communion with Him, through prayer and the sacraments) and will be saved (at the end of days from decay through the Resurrection). It would be a mistake to say that there is absolutely no assurance and also rash to assume that one is saved especially if God (in the case of Calvinism-correct me if I am wrong) has set one apart to be a reprobate.

    The Church teaches that it is by Christ alone and by grace alone that we are saved (CCC 1460, 2011), however this also means that though faith is the door to salvation the fruits of salvation must accompany it, else what kind of faith is it? An incomplete one surely.

    My question is: What would one base one’s assurance on and other than the oft quoted verses from Hebrews 10 without keeping them in context to the sacrifice of the OT and the terrible consequences of trampling underfoot the gift of this magnificent once-for-all sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. It must also be noted the Scripture proofs for HC 1 (i) is not sufficient to make the assurance of one’s salvation a scriptural position, unless I am missing something very important. The rest of it is perfect and in fact beautiful.

    The only thing we can be assured about faith is regarding its definition found in Hebrews 11:1.

    Other important scriptures on the quality of faith and assurance include…

    “Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:20-23)

    1 Corinthians 9:27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

    1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

    Galatians 5:1,4 . . . stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery . . . You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

    Philippians 3:11-14 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

    1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.

    1 Timothy 5:15 For some have already strayed after Satan.

    Hebrews 3:12-14 Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

    Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy . . .

    2 Peter 2:15,20-21 Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Balaam, . . . For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

    {See also 1 Samuel 11:6, 18:11-12, Ezekiel 18:24, 33:12-13,18, Galatians 4:9, Colossians 1:23, Hebrews 6:11-12, 10:23,26,29,36,39, 12:15, Revelation 2:4-5}

    I truly hope and encourage you to swim the Tiber not for the sake of church history, the beauty of the various liturgies or even the testimony of others who have taken the plunge. Rather place your trust in the Word. Be like a Berean search for and trust in the promises of Christ who said that he would teach all things through the Holy Spirit and the the gates of hell would not prevail. If indeed the gates of hell did prevail in the 300’s and needed various men to reform rather inform in the 1500’s, then we certainly don’t have much of a God, since he cannot even keep a simple promise.

    I would like to keep in touch and pray for you if you like, my email is

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