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One more apologetics note

In the post below, Carrie suggests that before Vatican II, there was little talk of apologetics. I don’t know if this is quite true, even though I wasn’t alive before Vatican II. I am sure there are historians of the field who can fill us in, but the truth is, apologetics is as old as Christianity in a way, and even in more recent variations of popular Catholicism, you see it. The Catholic Evidence Guild, of course, but even in normal religious study you find apologetics. I believe, for example, that in high school religion classes, it was common for part of the senior year to be given over to apologetics – to prepare the students for what they would meet in the outside world.

I have, for example, a copy of a 4th-year high school textbook called Toward the Eternal Commencement, part of a series called Our Quest for Happiness, published by Mentzer, Bush & Co. in 1946. The last section concerns apologetics, introduced by an explanation of the need for apologetics, as well as the importance of adapting one’s answers to the times. It ends this way:


One final word upon the limits of apologetics. We have called it a statement of the case for the Church. But at best, it is only part of the case, and not the strongest part: it is the statable part: the part that cannot be uttered is greater. The overwhelming case for the Chuch is what life in the Church means to those who live it; no one knows Christ our Lord as those know Him who have lived, or even tried to live, by His teachings and have been fed with the Eucharistic food.

The difference between living in the Church and merely hearing the arguments for the Church is like the difference between seeing the Grand Canyon and seeing a map of the Grand Canyon. Yet a right understanding of the arguments can accomplish great things, for others and for ourselves.


Yeah, you know all that pre-Vatican II catechetical material. So dry and over-intellectualized. Such meaningless head games.

And one more quote, from a rather well-known (at the time) apologetics book written, I believe, to be used in colleges, but heaven knows, since people used to be so much smarter, it might be a high school book for all I know. Apologetics by Paul J. Glenn, part of a “Philosophical Series” he wrote that Herder published.

Apologetics explains and justifies the Catholic religion as the true religion. That is to say, Apologetics shows that the Catholic religion in its essentials, and in such individual doctrines as may be investigated by the unaided mind of man, is reasonable, right, and true; and it shows that the arguments used against the claims of the Catholic religion are unwarranted, unreasonable, and fallacious.


So, it seems fairly clear to me that in a culture in which basic Christian faith is widely derided as unreasonable and Catholicism in particular is regarded as false, there is a tremendous need to answer those questions. The answering is like any step the intellect takes towards belief. It is not the belief itself. It opens the door to belief.

And why is that a problem?

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Yoga Priest

posted January 28, 2004 at 12:14 am

Who’s saying that it’s a problem? You asked that liturgist Todd dude for citations when he made claims about pro-lifers. How ’bout some footnotes here? Gaillardetz isn’t saying that we should chuck apologetics. He just wants a new and improved apologetics. He praises the good parts of the new apologists, especially that they’ve got real passion about defending doctrinal Catholicism and do well versus Elmer Gantry, before he gives them a little advice. Now he get abused, St Blog’s style. Poor bastard.
Bill Cork says that Gaillardetz wants an apologetics that’s “passionate and positive, dialogical, ecumenical, historically responsible, and culturally engaged.” Seems cool to me. Bill Cork quotes the Gaillardetz piece:
“To give an account of our faith ‘with gentleness’ (1 Peter 3) suggests that we disavow any arrogant triumphalism and adopt the humble posture of pilgrims who know that they have not yet arrived at their destination but who believe that they are following the right path and wish to share the path with others. To give an account of our faith with ‘reverence’ means to have reverence for the faith we share, but also to have reverence for our conversation partners, to honor their questions and insights.
“In the end, we come to the question of how to envision the effective apologists of tomorrow. Are they to be museum curators proudly displaying some precious treasures from antiquity? Are they to be master debaters cleverly overcoming the arguments of their opponents? Or are they to be humble pilgrims eager for some company on the long journey ahead?”
Does it seem like he wants apologists to close shop and take that night shift at McDonald’s? Not really.

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Jimmy Mac

posted January 28, 2004 at 1:11 am

The Catholic Truce Society was an active street-corner apologetics organization in London’s Hyde Park into the 1970s. Don’t know about today, though.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 1:15 am

My Religious Instruction classes in my final two years at a Marist Brothers High School in the late 1950’s in Australia were effectively “Apologetics”:

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Carl Olson

posted January 28, 2004 at 1:25 am

Little or no apologetics prior to Vatican II? That would come as a surprise to anyone whose read A History of Apologetics (1971), written by a guy named Fr. Avery Dulles, now known as Avery Cardinal Dulles. It’s worth checking out…
All of Gaillardetz’s good points have already been made. By a “new apologist.” Read Mark Brumley’s How Not to Share Your Faith: The Seven Deadly Sins of Catholic Apologetics and Evangelization (Catholic Answers, 2002). It’s heartily endorsed by the above-mentioned Cardinal Dulles and the Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput. Brumley’s article, btw, was first published in part in Envoy several years ago.

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john hearn

posted January 28, 2004 at 2:04 am

“…”To give an account of our faith ‘with gentleness’ (1 Peter 3) suggests that we disavow any arrogant triumphalism and adopt the humble posture of pilgrims …”
“I am the way the truth and the light; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Sounds kinda triumphalistic ta me. And here I thought that we were all suppose to swear off proof texting!

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posted January 28, 2004 at 6:52 am

What frosts me about Gaillardetz’s article is that the apologetics he proposes is not apologetics; it is inter-faith theological conversation conducted, in every specific, according to the etiquette of the U.S. Catholic theological academy. Of course the apologist takes as axiomatic the correctness of his own position, anything else is not apologetics.
There’s a sense of déja vu here. Remember the professional theologians’ response to the Catechism? It too was flawed because … because … because it was catechetics, and not theology. There wasn’t enough historical contextualization, attention to alternative ecclesiologies, attention to Dogmengeschichte, etc. What is clear as day is that theological guild itself (I’m speaking of the CTSA mainstreamers) has a professional resentment of anyone speaking in the name of the Church who claims to have immutably true answers. This entails a suspicion, if not a loathing, of catechetics and of apologetics as well. Does Gaillardetz seriously expect someone dealing with a typical phone-in question on a radio show to go into the development of doctrine — the “significant theological battles and important compromises” — pertinent to the answer? If so, he either has a cavalier view of history or, more likely, he’s asking us to renounce apologetics and do historical theology instead.
Look, theology is essential to the Church’s mission. But, as Amy pointed out, it is not the same thing as apologetics. And in calling for a “responsible” apologetics Gaillardetz does not increase my confidence when almost all the people he holds up as models (Bacik, O’Meara, Callahan, Hellwig, McBrien) are in serious conflict with various aspects of Catholic doctrine. This dissent may not undercut their ability to contribute to theology — viewed strictly as an academic discipline — but it is wholly fatal to their value as defenders of the faith.

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Dale Price

posted January 28, 2004 at 7:26 am

To use the old Catholic term: Bingo!
What he’s proposing is not apologetics, but carefully-circumscribed ecumenical dialogue. At best, it’s a form of apologetics so watered down as to be almost indistinguishable from it.
His method could work when you want to chat with nice people who don’t much care about truth claims, and eventually come up with a joint position paper in the importance of, say, the episcopate. Both sides walking away affirmed and all.
But his model is useless in the real world where those posing the challenges to the laity are playing for keeps.
The more I read Gaillardetz’ piece, the more I picture a guy standing outside a burning apartment building saying what we *really* need are firemen who shave more often and attend Carnegie courses.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 8:00 am

“Yoga Priest”
I’ve written to you before, telling you how much a greatly appreciate your insights on my blog, and that’s so true. So I’m a little surprised that you would proceed to abuse my hospitality and post anonymously. And here, you’re a little off. My post was in reference to Carrie’s post, which I referenced. The last paragraph is a rhetorical question for any who might think it was a problem, or think that it’s not important.
Did I tell you about the cool new feature Typepad has where I can pull an IP address off of a comment and then ask for all comments from that IP address?
I just discovered it. It’s great fun and incredibly useful.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 8:14 am

Apologetics did exist prior to Vatican II. Look at Newman’s Apologia for his life. Defense of the Development of Doctrine. Aquinas wrote an apologia contra gentiles.
Many of us see this as dogmatics, but at that time most lay men had a knowledge of the faith imparted through the sacred mysteries, so if they came across this stuff they would know they were defenses.
Also, the Nicene and Post Nicean Fathers were all apologists when they wrote about controversies in the early church and defended the “orthodox” position.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 8:29 am

I think people are confusing two somewhat different, but overlapping, things.
Apologetics as an exposition — either stand-alone or in debate/argument — versus apologetics as faith-sharing in a more intimate and quotidian manner.
In the latter context, I try to be aware that God may be speaking to me more through the person I am trying to witness to, rather than vice versa. (On the other hand, I also try to be aware of the hidden and not-so-hidden potential for narcissism in that awareness.) If that means I drop a triumphal attitude, so be it.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 8:45 am

Anyone interested in pre-Vatican II apologetics should search for “Frank Sheed” on Google. He was a man of formidable intellect not embarrassed to debate the Faith in Hyde Park and Times Square.

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Dale Price

posted January 28, 2004 at 9:20 am

With respect to the Glenn material, particularly this quote:
“Apologetics explains and justifies the Catholic religion as the true religion.”
I think most Catholic academics–including Gaillardetz–would have an objection to the idea of Catholicism “as the true religion.” I can’t picture McBrien, Helwig, etc. saying that about the Catholic faith. It’s triumphalist, anti-ecumenical, and just not cricket. It would certainly seem to be lacking “eschatological modesty,” whatever that catchphrase may mean. The reception Dominus Iesus received goes a long ways toward explaining why Gaillardetz, et al, are uncomfortable with the new apologists.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 9:57 am

Carl wrote,
Little or no apologetics prior to Vatican II? That would come as a surprise to anyone whose read A History of Apologetics (1971), written by a guy named Fr. Avery Dulles, now known as Avery Cardinal Dulles. It’s worth checking out…
Does Cardinal Dulles indicate that it was called “apologetics” prior to Vatican II? Because back then there was a lot of talk about “the missions,” which is not different in substance from appologetics, but different in its terminology. And that was my point, though I probably didn’t make it well.
Prior to the Council, lay Catholics were discouraged from having the sorts of discussions that today are called apologetics. That work was thought to be the work of missionaries, be they foreign missions or domestic.
Instead lay Catholics were forbidden to even enter a non-Catholic Christian church. We were not to study the writings of other Christian professions for fear we would end up tainting our own. We were to remain apart from Protestant Christianity which was viewed as a heresy and thus as having nothing to say to us. We did not become involved with inter-faith dialogue or with ecumenism.
If there was apologetics, called by that name, prior to the Council, I suspect that the target of the material was the Catholic who was already committed to his faith and was looking to deepen it. So, for instance, Bishop Sheen might be said to be offering apologetics in his Sunday broadcasts, but at the time that word would not have been applied to it.

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c matt

posted January 28, 2004 at 10:14 am

I don’t know, but it seems to me I would classify Chesterton, Belloc and others like them as Pre VII apologists. There is always room for being more polite and curteous, but I don’t see why that should translate into watering down truth claims. After all, if you’re not convinced its true, what’s the point? The theologian’s comment regarding “truth claims” for Catholicism speaks volumes about him.

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Patrick Rothwell

posted January 28, 2004 at 11:05 am

Pardon me while I throw a little stink-bomb in the conversation.
I have an interesting solution to Fr. Gaillardetz’s objections. The way in which the apologists present Catholic teaching is as distorted and misleading as he suggests, why not require Keating, Madrid et. al to obtain an ecclesisatical mandate from the local bishop?
An interesting question to go along with it. If the bishops ever were to impose a canonical mandate requirement, would the apologists gladly accept it and, if they didn’t, on what grounds?

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posted January 28, 2004 at 11:21 am

In 1948, under the heading of Catholic Action, the Knights of Columbus started placing those ads in national magazines asking WHY DO CATHOLICS BELIEVE………and offering anyone who wrote in to join the correspondence course. To this day each Knight pays an assesment towards Catholic Advertising.

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Patrick Sweeney

posted January 28, 2004 at 2:00 pm

Apologetics was thriving prior to Vatican II, although it something that most Catholics left to the priests and religious to do. (Of course: they had the training, the time, and the motivation to do so.)
Immediately after Vatican II there was a false sense of equivalence among all religions and all forms of evangelization (not merely apologetics) towards non-Catholics began to fade as well as sense that the fullness of truth was uniquely found in the Catholic Church.
Others might place it in time earlier than the mid-90’s but that’s when I got involved with Fr. Groeschel in the rebirth of the Catholic Evidence Guild in New York City. (The London chapter of the Guild maintained a continuous existence.)
Today the Guild is alive and well in New York City in 2004 and we have been out every month since 1998. We train people in the New York area to be apologists for the Catholic faith and help others form guilds in their own areas. and we’re always looking for new members. Next outing: Grand Central Terminal, Sat. Feb. 7, email me for details

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posted January 28, 2004 at 2:06 pm

re: Apologetics before V II
Version #1 A skill similar to defending a thesis.
Example: My dad won the Kansas state trophy an apologetics contest in 1937. He was considered best at defending and explaining the Faith at a forum where questions were thrown at him. It is different from cathchism answers because the questions are not framed as though from a fellow Catholic and there are no memorized answers. The questions are posed as though from a non-Catholic either interested in the faith or antagonistic to it.
As an adult, he had 3 or 4 conversions to his credit, which is one of the purposes of the enterprise. The other would be to defend your beliefs when attacked in a society that was considerably more antagonistic to our Faith than now.
Whether students participated in contests or not, developing skillin apologetics was to prepare students
who would be entering a predominantly
Protestant world after graduation. Also, to better understand the Faith oneself.
Version #2 – Books or essays by folks about how they came to the faith and how they understand and live it. The audience for these can be Catholics or non-Catholics.
I don’t think Bishop Sheen fits into either of these descriptions. He was talking about how to live a better Christian life. I don’t recall
him ever explaining the tenets of the faith. I don’t think his show would have been on prime time TV if he was doing apologetics.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 2:24 pm

Oh, am I having a trip down memory lane with regard to cs mentioning the Knights of Columbus. Many years ago I received one of their apologetic pamphlets. I read it over many times and eventually tucked it into my copy of then-Lutheran scholar Jaroslav Pelikan’s book “The Riddle of Roman Catholicism” (a book that for its time was very sympathetic to Roman Catholicism).
It’s still safely tucked away in that book and this October will be year 7 of my conversion to Catholic Christianity.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 2:50 pm

Thank you, and welcome!

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c matt

posted January 28, 2004 at 4:47 pm

Did I tell you about the cool new feature Typepad has where I can pull an IP address off of a comment and then ask for all comments from that IP address?
I just discovered it. It’s great fun and incredibly useful.
Yikes !!! I better start behaving.
(btw, have I been inconsistent? would be interesting to know).

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Dave Armstrong

posted January 29, 2004 at 5:49 pm

I posted this on Pat Madrid’s blog (having discovered the topical discussion at Dale Price’s), so I thought it might be good to do so here, too. I would even like to “hang out” on this blog, if Amy will have me. :-) I get tired of being on the front lines and getting wounded more than enough for comfort. It would be nice to hang with some like-minded folks once in a while . . .
Having been the recipient of a barrage of “anti-apologetic” sentiment lately, I rather appreciate Patty’s comments and others of similar nature, such as by my good friend Pat Madrid.
I (hanging my head in shame as I admit this)am one of those weird, odd, “triumphalist”, supposedly anti-ecumenical “apologists” myself (even — GASP! –full-time these days, by the grace of God).
I’ve had two people in the last month (an Orthodox and a Reformed pastor) tell me that this is “nothing to be proud of” and that I should “get a real job.” The insulting nature of such rhetoric is its own refutation.
I do what I do because of the following reasons:
1. I was called to it as a matter of vocation. I knew this as far back as 1981, as an evangelical Protestant. When I converted in 1990 it was clear that I should keep writing and doing apologetics as a Catholic, just as I had been doing for nine years.
2. The Bible commands all believers to defend their beliefs and share them intelligently and charitably with others (e.g., 1 Peter 3:15-16, Jude 3). It stands to reason that some few would do this full-time and “professionally.” We are merely specializing in what all Christians should do to some degree.
3. I happen to believe that a faith backed up by reason and knowledge of the usual and traditional attacks upon it is a stronger, and more biblical and Catholic faith. Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and MIND. I do apologetics because it strengthens people’s faith (as well as my own, very much so) and removes obstructions and roadblocks to faith. I fail to see what is bad about that. There is nothing like receiving a letter from someone who says that they have returned to the Church or converted to it or were otherwise spiritually strengthened or educated by something you wrote. To God be all the glory for that! But I refuse to sit here and have to apologize (no pun intended!) for what I do when it is being used by God in some small way for His purposes (as evidenced by the letters I receive, success of books, etc.).
4. I do NOT do what I do for fame, glory, money (— laughing uproariously –) or the accolades of men (a steady stream of insults from the anti-Catholics — and even from some fellow Catholics — keep me humble enough). I don’t do it because I think I am better or smarter than anyone else, or because all other views are worthless, or because I think that the intellectual aspect of faith is more important than any other aspect.
5. I am just as committed to warm relationships with non-Catholics as I am to defending Catholic distinctives. I don’t see how the two are mutually-exclusive at all (though they are often made out to be).
6. Lastly, there seems to be this motif or strain of thought lately, to the effect that apologists are somehow “academic pretenders” and acting as if they have all the answers and demanding of the respect that a scholar should receive (on the grounds that he ought to receive it). I don’t know where this comes from. It is certainly not true in my case (and I have not seen it in any other apologist that I know of). I have taken the greatest pains to emphasize that I am NOT a scholar, but just a lay apologist without formal theological education. My opinions are to be accepted insofar as they are deemed to be TRUE, biblically-supported, successfully explicated through reason, historically- and magisterially-backed up and helpful; no more, no less. I have also pointed out that the greatest and most influential apologists of recent times were also mere amateurs in their field. C.S. Lewis had no formal theological training. G.K. Chesterton did not, either. He was a journalist, without any college degree. Malcolm Muggeridge was a journalist. Peter Kreeft is a philosophy professor; Thomas Howard an English Professor, etc. Scholars write largely to other scholars. Apologists write to the masses and the common man. Both are valid endeavors (I love scholars and scholarship and utilize this as much as I can, in my work); they are simply different; they have differing natures and purpose.
I would much rather fight the errors of our time than have to state things like this in defense of my own vocation. But I thank everyone for letting me spout and vent a bit.
Believe it or not, apologists have feelings too! And I suspect that we like to be appreciated for what hard work we do (usually for relatively little financial reward, or none, in the case of the many who do apologetics besides their regular jobs, as I did for about 17 years) just as much as the next man. That’s not WHY we do our work, hopefully, but we are human beings, and get tired of the false, wrongheaded criticisms every once in a while. Good criticism on particulars is fine, of course, but this generalizing, condescending nonsense about “triumphalism” and so forth is worthless, both in and of itself, and in terms of achieving any positive, constructive purpose.
God bless,
Dave Armstrong
P.S. I bet y’all can tell I am a bit “battle-weary” It happens . . . :-) Please pray for me.

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Carol in NM

posted January 30, 2004 at 4:47 pm

Just a suggestion. Anyone interested in apologetics (not forgetting several other dimensions of catechesis), just try my little idea.
Homeschool your Catholic teens. Right now I am working through Our Quest for Happiness with one teen, and working through Fr. Laux’s high school series with the other. I am so grateful. God bless Laura Berquist and so many other homeschooling parents for leading me along…
Catechesis of the Parent by Homeschooling the Child
(BTW, our family discussed the early Apologists when we did 7th grade ancient history…WHY did anyone have the notion that apologetics was a modern practice?)
Poorly catechized in NY
Making up for it in NM

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Donald R. McClarey

posted January 30, 2004 at 10:12 pm

Before Vatican II there was little in the way of apologetics? That thud you just heard was Saint Justin Martyr fainting in heaven. Since Vatican II many Catholics seem to be seized with amnesia regarding anything that happened in the Church before ’65. The memory of a mayfly is not a charism of the True Faith.

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