First Yankee Priest- A Puritan Convert



I came across this letter in the Coming Home Network newsletter July 2008. It is long and was published by them in at least 4 installments. I will have many more I think.

John Thayer was born in Boston in 1755 and raised as a Puritan Christian. He graduated from Yale and became a Congregational minister and served as chaplain to Boston troops under the command of John Hanncock. After the war he traveled to Rome. While there he engaged in disputing the authenticity of miracles wrought by the intercession of recently canonized St. Benedict Labre. This resulted in Thayer’s conversion (1783) and reception into the priesthood of the Catholic Church (1789).

Below and in the following posts I will record a letter written 220 years ago by Fr. Thayer in response to his very anti-Catholic brother, Nathaniel’s letter despairing of Fr. Thayer’s salvation.

My dear Brother and Friend,

It is with the greatest satisfaction I have received your letter…and what has afforded me particular pleasure is to find that you still entertain the same tender affection for me you always did. Be persuaded that mine is always the same towards you; and so far from time, distance, or difference of opinion having weakened it in any manner, it has on the contrary received additional strength in the holy religion I have embraced, a religion whose proper and essential character is to perfect htose moral virtues which she finds in us.

After the tender effusion of your heart, you express to me your regret at my having left the religion in which I was broght up, to folow one, which (as far as you have any knowledge of it) abounds in bigotry and superstition. You have done well, my dear brother, to add, as far as yu have any knowledge of it; for, give me leave to tell you, that you have no knowledge at all of it, and nothing could lead you to express yourself thus, but the false representations and black calumnies of our enemies, who have the talnt to conceal all that is reasonable in this religion, the most holy, and most worthy of our veneration. This ignorance is common to most Protestants: for, I cannot imagine there are many so malicious and wicked, as to impute errors to us, which they know, in their conscience, we do not believe.

I was, like you, in the grossest ignorance in this particular and must own to you that nothing surprised me more than the exposition of the Catholic religion, such as I heard it from the mouth of those who profess it, so different did I find it from that represented to me when I was at school. Believe me, My Dear Brother, I have no interest in deceiving you; I desire nothin so much as your salvation, and that of all my dear relations. I declare to you before God, who sees the sincerity ofmy heart, to obtain this grace, I would willingly endure death itself.

Before you read my answers to your objections I beseech you to retire for a few minutes into some lonely spot, and there with your whole heart, and on your knees, promise God firmly to renounce all your passions; ask of him the grace to avoid all that the voice of your conscience shall declare to you to be sinful, and offer up to him this prayer:

God of mercy, I intreat thee himbly, through thy infinite goodness, to enlighten my mind and to move my heart, in order that by the means of true Faith, Hope, and Charity, I may live and die in the true religion of Jesus Christ. I am certain that, as htere is but one only God, so there can be but one only Faith, one only religion, and one only way to salvation, and that all the ways which are opposed to this can only lead to Hell. It is this Faith, O my God, that I seek with eagerness, in order to embrace it and obtain salvation. I protest, therefore, before the throne of thy Majesty, and swear by all thy divine attributes, that I will follow the religion which though shall have pointed out to me as the true one, and will renounce, whatever it may cost me, that in which I shall discover error and falsehood. I do not deserve, it is true, this favor of thee on account of the multidude and enormity of my sins of which I have a sincere grief, since they are displeasing to the, a God so good, so great, so holy, and so worthy of being loved; but what I do not deserve, I yet hope to obtain of thy infinite mercy, and I conjure thee to grant me this favor through the merits of the precious blood which has been shed for us, poor sinners, by thy only SonJesus Christ. Amen.”

If such be your disposition, and if you really desire to cherish it, my answers, although short and imperfect, will be sufficient to dispel all the clouds which darken your mind: but if you are disposed to act otherwise, you seek not the truth with an upright mind.

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