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My Thoughts on Catholic Apologetics

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(Last Updated:  04 Jan 2002 )

This page is a transcript of part of a workshop on apologetics that I helped out with, where I introduced my perspective on Catholic apologetics.

Apologetics

We should start our discussion by defining some terms - the word "apologetics" comes from the Greek word apologetikos, which means to speak in defense.  It's not about going around saying sorry all the time.  In fact, knowing some apologetics means not having to say you're sorry; it means you can explain, defend or teach some aspect of the faith, rather than having to apologise for your ignorance.

Catholic apologetics is a subset of general Christian apologetics, which is the science of defending the Christian faith; and I'd say that that is probably more important in the grand scheme of things, because there are a lot more non-Christians out there than there are non-Catholic Christians.  But all truth is God's truth, so we have duty to present whatever it is we are called to present; like St Paul says to the Corinthians, we're supposed to become all things to all people so that we might by all means save some.  So Catholic apologetics is about presenting the truth claims of Catholicism, usually where they conflict with those of other Christian organisations, or with quasi-Christian cults.

Now there's at least four good reasons that I can think of to get involved in defending the faith.

  1. Because it's true, and people have a right to hear the truth.
  2. Because we are told to do so in Scripture. "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" - 1 Peter 3:15 (that passage goes on to say "yet do it with gentleness and reverence").
  3. Because apologetics helps clear away some of the obstacles that may be stopping someone from hearing the call of the Holy Spirit on their life.  Defending the faith is very closely linked with evangelisation.  The love of God is too good to be real, but it's more real than the air we breathe.  People need to know that, and they need to know that our faith is a reasonable one, and we need to do what we can to help them come into that faith.
  4. Because you feel stupid when people say "Why do you believe that again?" and you can't give an answer.


I think Catholic apologetics is easier in some ways than, say, trying to explain Christianity to an atheist, because with our separated brothers and sisters we share most of the same basic data - the Scriptures.  And we have this bond of charity as well - we're both trying to outdo each other in love (or at least we should be).  Since we have the Bible in common, we'll use that a lot as we go through this workshop.

One thing I want to emphasise right from the start is that attitude is everything.  Apologetics is about presenting the truth in love - it's not about winning arguments.  Whatever we do, we should be doing it for the greater glory of God.  Spiritually, it's often better for us to lose an argument than to win one, because then we get a good lesson in humility (I'm speaking from experience here).

And we should remember that things aren't always as cut-and-dried as they might appear.  I've seen a lot of stuff, especially on the Internet, where Catholics are defending the faith but saying things like how dumb all those stupid Protestants are for not being Catholic, and how it's so obvious that the Catholic Church is right and you'd just have to be willfully bad or just downright stupid to not be Catholic (it goes the other way too, of course).  But one thing I've learned is that things are never as simple as they seem, and there's lots of reasons for the positions people hold.  They aren't always good reasons, but there's no slam-dunk argument that will compel someone to become Catholic.  Catholicism is much more of a world-view than just a set of beliefs, so it always looks a lot clearer from the inside.

We need to remember that non-Catholic Christians are our separated brethren.  They are our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ (even if they don't think we are theirs).  We shouldn't be making fun of them or questioning their motives, we should just be charitably trying to deal with the obstacles that keep them from full communion with the Church Christ established.


(Disclaimer: Some of the fictional dialogues on this site may not necessarily follow all the guidelines mentioned above, because in some cases I want to illustrate some other stuff as well. But the above is a good summary of my approach to apologetics with non-Catholic Christians.)


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