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Levi Silliman Ives



Dates: 16 September 1797 – 13 October 1867

Nationality: American

Occupation: Bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church, professor, theologian.


Levi Silliman Ives was an active member of the Protestant church in the USA in the first half of the nineteenth century. He was elected (Protestant) bishop of North Carolina in 1831 but was increasingly attracted to the Catholic Church. He was interested in and influenced by the Oxford Movement.


On a six month sabbatical visit to Europe, he visited Rome from where he sent a letter resigning as bishop in view of his decision to join the Catholic Church, the first Protestant bishop to do so since the seventeenth century. He was received into the Church by Pope Pius IX on 26 December 1852. His wife, the daughter of another Protestant bishop, converted shortly afterwards.   


Following his conversion, Ives was actively involved with a number of charitable institutions. As Ives wrote a full account of the reasons for his conversion, The Trials of a Mind in its Progress to Catholicism: a letter to his old friends (see under ‘Further resources’ below), he has left a rich legacy for others, especially Anglicans, who are contemplating joining the Catholic Church.



Comments on converting to Catholicism


“I began seriously to fear that the ‘danger’ apprehended from a thorough knowledge of Catholic teaching was not so much danger to the truth of God as to the system of Protestantism.”


“No man can well conceive the horror with which I first contemplated the possibility of a conviction against my own claims.”


“I will not attempt to say what it cost me to make this surrender. But one thing I will say, the sacrifice has been repaid ten thousand fold in the blessings of present peace, and in the certain hopes of eternal life.”


“I could hear myself appealed to from the first age of the Church: ‘Thou, who art seeking, why dost thou look to those who are themselves seeking?’ ”


[I converted] “with no prospect before me, but simply peace of conscience and the salvation of my soul”.


“Of doubt and confusion I had had enough. My mind reached forth for a distinct and infallible response.”


“The mere possession of … the Bible, even if it were in every man’s hand, and he a man of prayer, could go but a very little way towards a real knowledge of the will of God.”


“I felt quite confident that too great laxity [on the part of certain members of the Catholic clergy] must be owing not to defect in the Church, but to the want of fidelity on the part of individuals entrusted with her discipline.”


“The circumstance which … shook my confidence most of all, was the absence, in my view, of any instituted method among Protestants for the remission of post-baptismal sin. Sins before baptism were expressly forgiven in that sacrament. But for the remission of those committed after, however deadly, I could see in Protestantism no provision. That Christ left power in His Church to remit these I had no doubt.”


“Another manifest difficulty attended the Protestant scheme. It failed to secure to mankind what God required them to maintain, - unity in the faith.”


“I asked myself what there was in mere human nature at the time of the Apostles, which gave the Church then a better security in her unaided or aided judgment, than she possesses now? For I well knew that the Apostles as men, were not exempt from the common infirmities … of human nature. … I perceived that the infallibility of the Church stood then where it stands now, IN THE DIVINITY OF HER INCARNATE HEAD.”


“When I asked for authority, I found only individual opinion; - for infallibility, a confession of doubt; - for unity in fundamental faith, division and mutual crimination; - no claim to universality, and no agreement even in the narrowest sectarianism! But when I turned my ear, and listened to the voice of the Fathers, echoing the voice of God, I hear clearness and positiveness of speech, - heard the assertion in the Church of divine authority, Catholicity, infallibility, and necessary, abiding unity.


Argument after argument [against the Catholic Church] seemed to fade before my mind.”


[On the authority of the Anglican communion:] “Are we to admit that authority when she taught that the Pope is the supreme head of the Church? or when she taught that the king is? When she taught seven sacraments in the Church? or when she taught that there are only two? When she held Transubstantiation, or when she pronounced it ‘repugnant to the plain words of Scripture’? When she held ‘the Sacrifice of the Mass for the living and the dead’ as a blessed privilege; or when she cast it away as ‘a blasphemous fable’? But my heart almost dies within me at the recollection of this dreadful change, and I forbear.”


“The mystical body of Christ … presents herself to the nations as an all-sufficient guide to eternal life, long before the New Testament had its being. Will any one pretend to say that the Christians who lived and died under this simple and oral teaching of the priesthood, were not as well furnished for their entrance into the Paradise of God as they who trust solely to the Bible at the present day? But those Christians lived and died under the ‘authority of Catholic tradition’. And that same tradition, with that same authority, has ever remained in the Church, an infallible teacher and interpreter to the present hour.”


“As a fact, I saw the primacy of St. Peter standing before me. A Bishop of Rome was actually exercising jurisdiction over the whole Catholic Church, as a successor in that see of the Prince of the Apostles, and as a matter of history had been exercising it since the infancy of the Christian faith. Every description of adverse power had been leagued against it, and every sort of stratagem had been employed for its overthrow; still this centre of jurisdiction stood. Surrounding Patriarchates had been consumed by heresy or broken in pieces by time, but this stood. Kingdom after kingdom had been swept into oblivion from its side, yes, from its very embrace, yet this stood in all the vigour of its maturity, fulfilling its original functions … .”


“Nothing more … was needed to make it certain in my mind, that the Fathers understood Holy Scripture, as teaching that our blessed Lord invested St. Peter with a primacy or supremacy of jurisdiction in His Church, and made him chief pastor thereof, and in such a sense as that he is the source of all visible authority and of all visible unity in the Church, and when acting or teaching as the Church’s visible head and representative, is to Christ’s people an infallible guide to the truth. … In truth I could not see how it should be possible for an honest Anglican … to come to any other conclusion!”


“I can now say, with a depth of truth which no one but a Catholic can understand, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of life; of whom, then, shall I be afraid?’ And further, I can now suffer, as a Catholic alone can comprehend, and count it all joy, if it only be for Christ and heaven.”


Further resources


An online version of Ives’ own full account of his path to conversion is available here. Most of the above quotations are taken from this source.