Intellectual Fisticuffs: Some Thoughts on the Apologetics Subculture

In 1998, I was asked to give a talk at my parish on my conversion to the Catholic Faith. The local Catholic bookstore set up a table of various materials on the Catholic faith and as I perused them, I was struck by the fact that virtually none of these materials had existed when I came into the Church in 1987. Today, if I were to walk into that bookstore, I would find, not only the materials under which that table groaned in 1998, but a still greater torrent of books, videos, DVDs and CDs, a vast number of them created by converts. Clearly there have been some big changes in the past twenty years. But before I discuss them, let me digress a bit.

On the whole, I’m glad of the boomlet in apologetics that has happened since the 80s. It began, almost single-handedly at first, through the efforts of Karl Keating and the good people at Catholic Answers. For some reason, apologetics had become a dirty word after the Council, with the predictable effect that Catholics soon lost the ability to articulate what the hell they believed and why. When I was coming into the Church, it was like pulling teeth to find an RCIA group that would, like, tell me what Church taught instead of reflexively obeying the impulse to just affirm me in my okayness. Karl Keating, more than any other figure in the 80s, is the guy who took action to turn that trend around. And (I strongly suspect) no small reason for the resulting resurgence of apologetics was due to the relief Catholics felt after years of hearing what fools they were for believing the Faith and having few tools other than a gut feeling to counter these charges.
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Part of what fed (and feeds) the interest in apologetics is simply the thrill of learning and articulating the Faith. That’s certainly what motivates me. People call me an apologist. I generally don’t call myself one, because I primarily think of myself as an amateur teacher. I think the Faith is fascinating and just like telling other people about it, because I love to watch the lights come on and I love to watch the Faith liberate other people as it’s liberated me. Sometimes that involves “defending the Faith”. But many more of times it involves proclaiming the Faith.

The two, by the way, are different and those who love apologetics would do well to remember that. The first and primary task of the believer is not to defend the Faith, but to proclaim it. In other words, evangelization comes first, and apologetics is, at best, its handmaid. You don’t need to “defend the Faith” unless the Faith is being attacked or feared as contrary to Reason. Indeed, if we enter into a conversation with a defensive mentality, we shouldn’t be surprised if the result is to ignite a hostile mentality in the person to whom we are talking. Not a few times have I seen hot-headed, testosterone-driven young single guys (that is, the sort of person who is typically drawn to apologetics) forget this and come on strong with a pugilistic attitude that radiates “You probably think there’s something wrong with my Faith, don’t you? Don’t you? Come on, try me buddy. Just try me!” Such folk mean well usually. They are typically young bucks full of piss and vinegar. A thousand years ago, all that masculine energy would have been spent on something like a healthy Crusade where they could wade into the foe and smite him hip and thigh. But today, there are very few pressure valves through which the Valiant Knight hormones can be released, so they go into apologetics, often without anybody to instruct these guys that the medieval ideal also included the model of the verray, parfit gentil knyght who comes in peace before he comes in war.

Most of the apologists I know who have wound up becoming (for want of a better word) “known” apologists seem to get this. Most of them do what they do, first and foremost because they love the Faith, not because they are spoiling for a fight. The goal is to generate light, not defeat somebody in combat. And more than that, the goal is to learn about everything, not simply to learn about apologetics. Jimmy Akin, for instance, who is staff apologist for Catholic Answers, seems to me to typify this very Catholic mindset. His blog certainly deals with apologetics. But it also reflects his interest in everything from weird fiction to science to what have you. Similarly, Dr. Scott Hahn, who’s certainly done his share of apologetics, isn’t really about apologetics: he’s about scripture, the Fathers of the Church, the family, and the subjects of the (literally) 50,000 other books that are wedged into the rabbit warren he calls his library, stuffed into the basement of his house.

The first post-conciliar wave of Evangelical-to-Catholic convert apologists started in the late 80s and early 90s with almost no human coordination–just the Holy Spirit watching the wave roll in. I was, without realizing it at the time, part of that First Wave. Big influences on me included Thomas Howard, Peter Kreeft, Lewis, Chesterton, and Sayers. I also read Karl Keating’s work. There was a rising flood of Evangelical converts and, as Evangelicals do, they started trying to articulate what they had done and why for the benefit of those they had left behind. Evangelicals have a bred-in-the-bone sense that, “If you can’t verbalize your faith, then there’s some doubt as to whether you really know what it is.” So we started writing the books and making the tapes that filled that Catholic book table by 1998. And, as we were doing this, we slowly started looking around and realizing to our surprise that we weren’t alone–usually well after our entry into communion with Rome. In fact, it was not until the early 90s, that I discovered people like Hahn, David Currie, Akin, Rosalind Moss and the whole current crop of Evangelical converts existed. The experience was similar for a lot of First Wavers. We thought we’d pretty much stepped out of Evangelicalism into the Incalculable Catholic Abyss, and to our astonishment there were all these other Evangelical converts! Result: The First Wave started “networking” just as a Second Wave (who read our books and listened to our tapes) were persuaded and started to convert too.

Periodically, somebody will ask me if I had some grand strategy for evangelism when I started writing about the Faith. This is of a piece with the curious notion I sometimes encounter among some readers, who seem to have this notion that Scott Hahn, Karl Keating, Pat Madrid, Tim Staples, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Jeff Cavins, Jimmy Akin and various other apologist types like me get together on a monthly basis to knock back a few cold ones, compare notes so as to make sure we are all saying the same thing, and then fan out to promulgate our identical versions of the Christian faith.

My only response to such thinking is, “I don’t believe in organized religion. I’m a Catholic.” The fact is, I started writing about the Faith for the only reason anybody should write about stuff: because I found it very interesting. I had and have no Grand Plan except to learn the Faith and its fascinating implications and try to articulate these things because the Faith gives me joy and fulfillment and I like to see that happen for others. That said, I will note that I do think the Holy Spirit has grand plans that I occasionally get to play a part in, as do you. And so, because the Faith He inspires is a coherent thing, I soon found, to my surprise, that this entire subculture existed, not only of Catholic apologists (many more than the handful I’ve named), but of their various opponents–as well as a sort of growing cheer section for both. And I discovered (by experience) some of the problems that go with that.

Probably the most dangerous thing that goes with it is a curious sort of idolatry that can arise. The other day, for example, I got a letter from somebody which read, in part:

Recently I came across a protestant web site of a Mr. X. He is extremely well educated regarding the writings of Martin Luther. He has convincingly shown how our Catholic Apologists have taken quotes of Martin Luther out of context to try to show that he was a nutcase. It has really opened my eyes and it has got me wondering where else our Catholic Apologists have erred. Today on his blog, he posted an article which refutes your assertion that St Jerome, before he died, accepted the apocrypha as canonical. I am posting it below to give you a chance to respond. I hope you can. This blog site has deeply disturbed me because Mr. X has shown many times where the Catholic Apologists that I have come to admire and learn from have been making serious errors in scholarship resulting in faulty conclusions. I have written Robert Sungenis, Scott Hahn, Art Sippo et al to visit this blog and form some refutations if possible. I do not know if they have done so and it is really bugging me. Would you please take a look at Mr. X’s blog because Catholic Apologists will be hearing from this guy soon and you had better be ready for him.

A number of things concern me about this note. But the first and foremost is that somebody’s faith could be disturbed by the fact that a Catholic apologist has erred. Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve encountered the tendency to anoint me or some other apologist as a sort of Alternative Magisterium to the real Magisterium by a “fan base” that is somewhere between a school of disciples and a cheer squad. Indeed, I have found that, in an era where laity have been taught to mistrust their bishops–not only by the media and the culture, but by the shocking incompetence and perfidy of the bishops in the abuse scandal–it’s very easy for laity to hive off and anoint new ersatz Magisteria in the form of whatever faction they happen to fancy. For some, the New Magisterium is the advocates for women priests. For others, it’s Catholics for a Free Choice. For still others, it’s whatever Richard McBrien says is the consensus of Thinking Catholics in the Academy. For some, it’s Dan Brown.

But for not a few in the apologetics subculture, it’s what I or Scott Hahn or [insert favorite apologist] think about X, Y and Z. And that’s a very dangerous thing to do, because we apologists are not protected by the charism of infallibility in the slightest. In the case cited by my correspondent above, for instance, the crisis of faith was precipitated by the fact that I misread St. Jerome in an article I wrote years ago for Envoy. (I thought Jerome was defending the Septuagint and the inclusion of deuterocanonical books like Tobit, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees in the canon of Scripture.) I did not misread Jerome wilfully, as Mr. X suggested on his blog, but I nonetheless did make a blunder. That’s the breaks. I make mistakes.

Such blunders can be instructive, if we are not blinded by idolatry and the attendant backlash which often happens when the idol is inevitably shattered. For instance, if one gets past the fact that I erred in reading Jerome, one can discover that the Church’s authority is not thereby toppled. Mr. X’s argument, which threw my correspondent into such a tailspin, was that it somehow mattered that Jerome rejected the deuterocanon. In fact, it does not matter in the slightest. Because Jerome is not who decides what goes in the Bible any more than Mr. X is. Indeed, on that score, Jerome is on the same page as every Catholic. That is, though Jerome only grudgingly included the deuterocanon in his Vulgate, he nonetheless did so in obedience to the Church because he took it as axiomatic that there was no sin in submitting to “the judgment of the Churches”. Basically then, in this dispute, I blew a battle but the Church still won the war, because the central thesis of my article was that the Church–not mere individuals but the Church–is the final arbiter of the Faith. So at the end of the day, it’s kind of a teapot tempest to spend massive amounts of electrons pinning down precisely what Jerome thought about the deuterocanonical books, because deciding what goes in the Bible wasn’t Jerome’s call, as he himself well knew.

The moral of the story is not “Trust everything I say because I’m never wrong.” It is also not “Distrust everything I say because I make mistakes.” Rather it is that St. Paul is emphatically right when he urges us to “test everything and hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). My counsel to anybody tempted to anoint apologists as an alternative Magisterium is to do like Jerome and trust in the judgment of the Church, not in mortals.

In a related vein, I think it would be well for the apologetics subculture (particularly the one in cyberspace) to simply get some air and remember that it really is just a subculture (at least in the Catholic Church). To be sure, there are some Protestant sects out there that are pretty much about nothing but apologetics (and often, anti-Catholic apologetics). So, for instance, when a Protestant anti-Catholic “apologist” adopts the handle “prosApologian”, you pretty much know where this guy’s sense of identity is invested. He knows Greek and you don’t. He has a degree from Wilbur Weed Unaccredited Boxtop Diploma Mill and is fond of calling himself “doctor” and listing his credentials. He eats and sleeps apologetics. He will fill your screen with enough gaseous ASCII to inflate the Hindenburg in pursuit of the exact parsing and declension of some Greek conjunction (all while asking if your credentials are as big as his credentials). He’s ready to rumble. Right. Got it.

And then Catholics respond. Some of the responses are from Catholics who are interested in light. So, for instance, Akin, with a groan and a sigh, undertakes the task of replying yet again to whatever it is prosApologian is gassing on about as this week’s proof that Romanism is a false religion. Akin does so out of interest in clarity, and because he’s been called dishonest by name, not out of testosterone-driven need to prove his manhood. The difference between the two is that there is, for Akin, a healthy awareness that the Faith, like life, is more than apologetics. So while the anti-Catholic zealot is filling the air with nothing but his arguments against the Faith and the glories of his spotless record of zero defeats in conflict with absolutely everybody who has ever disagreed with him, Akin is stopping to smell the roses, chat about Max Headroom, speculate on apostolic succession on other planets, comment on the X Men, post curious photos of Indian Mounds that figured in H.P. Lovecraft stories and, in short, be a normal human being.

Not all Catholics, however, have this sense of perspective and it’s easy for some to get sucked into the cramped little world of endless hairsplitting that the apologetics subculture can sometimes become. And so we find volleys of 19,000 word essays fired back and forth across the web, filled with more detail than any normal person could want about the precise meaning of the word “until” in Matthew 1:25. But the fact is, the Faith and the world are larger than mere theological abstractions, grammar spats, and nitnoid quibbles and we Catholics don’t have to live in that hothouse. Indeed, if we do, we can often communicate a radically different vision of the Faith than you actually find in the world of incarnate, flesh and blood Catholics, who do not rest their entire faith on what Jerome thought of the Septuagint, who do not obsess over the meaning of heos hou, and who could not, for the life of them, articulate a detailed analysis of the Aristotelian roots of Thomas’ doctrine of Transubstantiation. All these things matter in their proper place. But none of these things matter much for 99.999999999999999% of Catholics in the world–or for Protestants for that matter. If we give people the impression such things do matter, don’t be surprised when they react with disappointment, anger and/or bemusement when they discover that actual Catholic Faith (that is, the Faith as it actually incarnate in the Church of flesh and blood people) is very different from the diagrams found in the hothouse of the apologetics subculture.

Don’t get me wrong. Diagrams are important. But they aren’t the whole story. If you only think in terms of diagrams, you will not only overlook, but sometimes even oppose the teaching of John Paul II, who said that each man and each woman are the way the Church must walk, not the other way around. If you tend to conceive of the Faith as a mere body of abstractions that must be programmed into each human brain until it is in right working order, you will (as some readers of my blog did) respond to, say, suggestions that the Church needs to understand the attraction of Pentecostalism to millions in Latin America by asking, “Why? What does Pentecostalism have to teach the Church?” Note how the person is entirely absent from such a question. In this diagrammatic approach to life, Pentecostalism is simply a body of doctrines which are either derivations from or corruptions of the Catholic Faith. As such, it has nothing to add and can simply be dismissed. The persons who believe it–their loves, hopes, fears, yearnings, hates, and idiosyncracies–none of these enter the equation at all. The goal is to defeat Pentecostals in open combat with the True Faith by logic and argument, not to proclaim Good News, nor to hear the possibility that the Spirit who blows where He wills might have been doing something good in these human beings without our approval.

Pointing out the folly of this approach is not to deny that the fullness of revelation subsists in the Catholic faith. Nor is it to undercut all that I have said about the good the apologetics subculture is doing in the Church and in the world. After all, I do that job myself because I think it’s a vital job. Rather it is to deny that the fullness of revelation subsists in the apologetics subculture. The gospel speaks to this mentality rather directly:

John answered, “Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:49-50).

Those who forget the duty of evangelism in their zeal for Open Apologetic Combat would do well to memorize this passage. Likewise, those who turn their Fave Rave Apologists into Alternate Magisteria would do well to smash their idols and allow their heroes to be the faithful–and fallible–human beings they are. The biblical commands to forsake idols, to test everything and hold on to the good, to worship the Lord your God alone and to love your neighbor as yourself–these few guidelines constitute the basic toolkit necessary for anybody who wants to do the work of proclaiming and, where necessary, defending the Catholic faith.

Mark Shea

By

Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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  • michaelh

    Full of what “and vinegar”?!? Come on, Mark… this is Catholic Exchange, not your blog!

  • siobhan32

    Yes, this is Catholic Exchange and I just exchanged my time for some of his wisdom in the field of apologetics for Catholics and nonCatholics alike. Not a day goes by that I am asked about some aspect or other of the Catholic Church, especially by Catholics. Not being myself a theologian, I need guidance. And I appreciate the lengths to which he went to convey his thoughts. Thank you Mark.

  • scwelter

    I am a dairy farmer from Wi. and I appreciate straight language like piss and vinegar to emphasize a point. We use a four letter word that starts with s around here because it is what we step in most days and city folks don’t get it!
    To us it’s not offensive but part of everyday life. Of course I wouldn’t go to church with s on my shoes so I should leave the word in the barn yard!
    Sometimes in apologetics we defend what we don’t need to defend! Just live it and people will see it!

  • Mark, thank you for taking the time to articulate (at length!) a reasonable concern.

  • christinasanders

    thank you, Mr. Shea for being REAL. That you used some slang in your article communicated to me the point you were trying to make – that you are a regular, ordinary layperson like any of us, and just because you have written books and are a well known apologist does not make you free from indiscretion or mistakes at times. I appreciate the candor and to me, it helped lighten up the conversation. After all, aren’t we all friends?

  • Mark Shea

    Michael:

    “1 Kings 14:10 (Douay Rheims): Therefore behold I will bring evils upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up, and the last in Israel: and I will sweep away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as dung is swept away till all be clean.”

    If the word is good enough for the translators of the Douay Rheims, it’s good enough for me. We are not Puritans, but Catholics.

    Indeed, even Puritans had no problem with it, given that they used the King James Version, which also employed the word. It, (like “skubala” which Paul used and which is (very politely and utterly inaccurately) translated as “rubbish” and (somewhat more accurately as the still-too-polite “dung”) is meant to get across a vulgar reality. “Piss and vinegar” isn’t even insulting. It simply conveys the notion of youthful restless energy. I *like* people who are full of piss and vinegar.

  • Vinco99

    What a wonderful and insightful article! I can’t believe that the first few posts were discussing the use of the word “piss.” Wow.

    Nice work, Mark! This article is a nice reminder for me at times when I “share” the faith like an angry defense lawyer (who is losing).

    God bless.

  • Doria2

    Better than usual Mark – I learn much from you – thanx – Doria2, Yonkers, NY

  • noelfitz

    Mark

    Thank you so much for such a brilliant articel – but a bit long.

    Recently I am being discouraged with CE as the discussions seem to have dried up.

    But your article, as usual, is full of sound sense and Catholicism and is encouaraging me to hang on in with CE in this time of change.

    Your list of good writers is helpful: Thomas Howard, Peter Kreeft, Lewis, Chesterton, Sayers, Karl Keating, Hahn, Pat Madrid, Tim Staples, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Jeff Cavins & Jimmy Akin.

    However your articles always provoke ideas. I find many Protestants agree with us in most things and can help us with our faith.

    You wrote:
    “The first and primary task of the believer is not to defend the Faith, but to proclaim it. In other words, evangelization comes first, and apologetics is, at best, its handmaid.”

    We have different gifts and responsibilities. Some of us are called to be apostles (sent to evangelize, missionaries), some prophets (proclaim God’s will), some teachers (explain the faith) and some ordinary faithful(give witness and seek holiness in ordinary life).

    “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?” The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version, 1 Co 12:28,29) (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989).

    Really Mark thank you so much and keep up the wonderful work you are doing.

    God bless,
    Noelfitz.
    ______________________________________________________________
    IN NECESSARIIS UNITAS, IN DUBIIS LIBERTAS, IN OMNIBUS CARITAS.
    ______________________________________________________________

  • gk

    Jerome is a doctor of the church and therefore what he says trumps most others who say they are of the church. …

    At least that is the attempted argument. And that is more than most of us can handle. I like peace and I like Truth. I am glad that both are in the Church and I don’t have to fear that everything must line up for the Church to have Peace and Truth.

    So thank God I don’t have to be full of piss & vinegar in this our holy, yet full of human foibles, Church.

  • noelfitz

    Does Jerome as a Doctor trump Augustine as a Latin Father and Doctor?

    God bless,
    Noelfitz.
    ______________________________________________________________
    IN NECESSARIIS UNITAS, IN DUBIIS LIBERTAS, IN OMNIBUS CARITAS.
    ______________________________________________________________

  • Bruce Roeder

    “But today, there are very few pressure valves through which the Valiant Knight hormones can be released…”

    The Knights of Columbus are one such pressure valve!

  • gk

    noelfitz,

    I’d say Jerome also has the translator of the bible under his belt as far as trumpability goes. And since our apologetic Protestant was talking about the bible, Jerome’s expertise in this area might be more weighty than the title of father.

    Then again, I might be wrong or left.

  • yblegen

    Thanks Mark. I agree with Vinco99. Unfortunately, as a descendant of Bohemond, a knight in the first crusade, I tended to come out fighting when challenged about my faith. My strategy now is to shut up and if the person is willing to listen or read, I give them a CD or book on the subject, thanks to Mark and the other apologetic writers.

  • As one of the people named in the comment about “unfair” representations of Martin Luther, I wanted to make a statement. The website that the person mentioned was the “Beggars All” site run by James Swan. Mr. Swan is an enthusiatic advocate of the Protestant Deformation while being hypercritical of all things Catholic. He tries to undermine the facts of history to pretend that the Protestnat Deformers were above reproach and that any Catholic criticism of them is mean spirited and unfounded. In particular, he has attacked the work of Fr. Denifle and Fr. Grisar who wrote extensive multivolumes works on Luther documenting his bizarre behavior and his misrepresentation of the Bible and of Catholic doctrine. In doing so, they were part of group of scholars — both Protestant and Catholic — who have concluded that Luther suffered from mental illness and that said illness strongly influenced his theological ideas. Scholars who have come to this conclusion included Preserved Smith, Paul Reiter, Richard Simon, Herbert David Rix, Erik Erikson, Richard Marius, and Martin Marty.

    It is obvious to anyone studying Luther and reading what he wrote that the man was seriously disturbed. His views of human nature as having no will at all and being moved either by the will of God or Satan is classic for psychotic patients. Similarly his idea that faith alone apprehends forgiveness of sin contradicts the clear words of Scripture (e.g., James 2:24, Matt 25:31ff, Gal 5:6, and Romans 6:22) and is another sign of irrationality.

    Mr. Swan is not an honest man, but a glib con-artist whose sole goal is to defame those who raise serious objections about the Deformers while refusing to face the truth about them.

    I am always very happy to dispel the nonsense that anti-Catholics like Mr. Swan try to foist on an unsuspecting public. If anyone wishes to discuss the matter, they can interact with me on my blog.

    http://art-of-attack.blogspot.com/

    Arthur Sippo MD, MPH

    Omnes semper: Ad Jesum, per Mariam, cum Petro!

  • mkochan

    Of course, Luther could have been a nutter and still been right.

    If he had deep psychological problems — and that seems real likely — he is all the more admirable for having produced a translation of the New and then the Old Testament that ranks today in German in much the same stature that the KJV has in English — there is many a sane and stable man who could not begin such a feat.

    And he was right about a great deal, just as he was tragically wrong about a great deal. But, in point of fact, one proves little about Protestants and Protestantism by delving into Luther’s mental state. He was highly regarded by some very thoughtful and intelligent men in his own day. And his theological treatises are read with respect by scholars across the Christian landscape – including Catholics — even to this day. (Remember, he was a Catholic professor of scripture.) Regardless his mental condition, his arguments have to be dealt with on their own merits. In his own day, the Church sent it’s most highly qualified debater to engage him; he was not thought of as easily dismissed then, and neither is he today.

    The problem with bringing up the whole psychology issue is that a Catholic who brings it up can appear to be attempting to swerve around having to deal with any of his arguments, kind of like a Protestant who brings up the sex abuse scandal to fend off having to engage with the actual teachings of the Church.

  • dknowak

    Mark, your admission of being wrong in your earlier Envoy article was a breath of fresh air in the sometimes stale air of apologetics debating. When I was going through RCIA in the late ’80’s, I remember being told the proof that the Church was holy was through the many men and women saints and martyrs of the Church. That may be true, but for me, it is even truer that the Church must be the True Church if there are so many sinners and mistake-makers among us…yet the Church survives. Scandal and error, schism and heterodoxy may be the major stories of the day, but the Church continues to live and breath and make converts.

  • Cooky642

    One last voice to thank you for the reminder that, just because I put on my ‘armor’ every day does not mean I am necessarily called to battle (i.e., those ‘trumpets’ I hear may be all in my own head!). I love to teach, and I need to be reminded from time to time that the call to evangelize means teaching (sharing information), not cutting off heads. I recently had quite a remarkable, Holy Spirit-driven example of this very thing. Thanks for the reminder.
    (P.S. my favorite line in your article was, “I don’t believe in organized religion. I’m a Catholic”. Mind if I borrow that?)

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  • stevemac

    I find it very encouraging to see such a humble and thoughtful article regarding apologetics. Especially the parts about sharing faith rather than getting into contentious debates. That is not to say that we should not be prepared to give reason for our hope, we should be prepared. But if we lack charity, it is just “noise”. (1 Cor 13)
    Sometimes I am troubled when it would seem that the only interest we have in Sacred Scriptures is when they are tabled in the context of apologetics. It suggests that we are only interested in boltering chauvenism.
    I think that a dose of humility would suit us well, especially given the state of the Church in the US. The Holy Father is right. Corporately, we have embraced secular humanism hook, line, and sinker. We are so proud that we have the “Real Presense” in the Eucharist. But what is it doing for us corporately?We wink at same sex attraction, our pulpets are silent on abortion, we abuse the liturgy, twist Scriptures when it is offends our political sensitivities, and have bought into the systems of this world.
    Praise God that with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, the “post-conciliar crisis” is abating, but if the prophet Jeremiah (the prophet, not Obama’s pastor) were a member of the “American Church”, he would rent his garments and heap dust upon his head.

  • noelfitz

    Artsippop
    You wrote:
    …the Protestnat Deformers were above reproach and that any Catholic criticism of them is mean spirited and unfounded.

    Perhaps some Reformed Christians would be correct to claim certain Catholic criticism of them can be mean spirited and unfounded.

    Your post could vindicate their claim.

    God bless,
    Noelfitz.
    ______________________________________________________________
    IN NECESSARIIS UNITAS, IN DUBIIS LIBERTAS, IN OMNIBUS CARITAS.
    ______________________________________________________________

  • Hi Mark,

    I have a brief question about the letter which you cited. You said, “A number of things concern me about this note. But the first and foremost is that somebody’s faith could be disturbed by the fact that a Catholic apologist has erred.”

    I was wondering–did the letter writer say that his (her?) faith had been shaken? Perhaps in another part of the letter? In the part that you quoted, he did say that he was disturbed by the realization of certain apologists’ errors. But he didn’t say that his faith had been shaken. (He might be “disturbed” in the sense of wanting Catholic apologetics to be stronger, without being shaken in his personal faith. Or something similar. I have the same reaction when I see Christians defending the existence of God using bad arguments. It bothers me, without any effect on my belief in God.)

  • As Mr. Shea knows, my faith has been shaken as well by the errors of Catholic apologists. I would just say to Mr. Shea that he be careful not to become like certain Protestants who tout the perspicuity of Scripture while neglecting to mention that the fine print says you must know Greek, Hebrew, read all the major works on various issues, the writings of the ECF’s if you intend to use or criticize them, etc., etc. In short, Mr Shea, realize that average Catholics cannot become scholars or apologists just to know their Faith. Hence, the responsibility that you and other apologists assume. It almost seems to me like you’ve made a mistake (possibily more than one), and now that you see the consequences of this in the life of an average Catholic, you want to pawn it off on him/her by saying that they should’ve done their own homework.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to take away all responsibility from the average Catholic to do substantial study (not even necessarily for apologetics). As a an average Catholic whose faith has been seriously shaken by the errors of Catholic apologists, I have chosen to do the work myself and see if various things are as they had led me to believe so many years ago. Nevertheless, everyon has their calling, Mr. Shea, and some Christians are simply called to be sheep.

  • certain Protestants who tout the perspicuity of Scripture while neglecting to mention that the fine print says you must know Greek, Hebrew, read all the major works on various issues, the writings of the ECF’s if you intend to use or criticize them, etc., etc.

    Uh…quick point.

    Either you’re misunderstanding “the perspicuity of Scripture”, or those Protestants are.

    From the Westminster Confession:

    All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. — WCF 1.7

    I doubt that knowing Greek, Hebrew, the major works, the writings of the ECFs, etc. would be included in “ordinary means”. The Reformation notion of “the perspicuity of Scripture” is something like, “The main things are the plain things.” (Whether or not you agree, that’s the claim.)

    In short, if you see a Protestant arguing the way you said, then you’re entirely right to criticize them for inconsistent fine print.

    But, if you see a Protestant talking about the value of knowing Greek, Hebrew, the major works, the writings of the ECFs, etc., then they’re not being inconsistent. Not as long as they also say you don’t need that stuff to understand the things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation.

  • I remember the emergence of this subculture back when I was a teenager in the Legion of Mary in the early 1990’s. I thought at the time that it was quite edifying, and it helped me as a Catholic to know my Faith better in a part of the world where the Catholic message perhaps wasn’t being proclaimed strongly enough.

    Nowadays, I have seen quite a bit of this pugnaciousness both in person and on-line, and as you point out, something seems missing from it. I would like to think of Catholicism as more a way of life than anything else: a set of relationships that determine how we get along with God, our neighbors, and our ancestors. If I were to teach someone the Catholic Faith, I would start out with what I started out with as an infant: I would teach that person to say his or her prayers. Then I would go from there.

    As a student of Latin America, and being that my family is from there, the reason that Catholicism is losing faithful there to Pentecostalism has little to do with doctrine. While a lot of it has to do with the reasons usually cited (poor catechesis, the material aide that Protestant sects give, etc.), a profound driving reason is the de-mystification of Catholicism coming out of the Second Vatican Council. This process includes the de-emphasis on the saints, the venacularization of the Mass, and the vanishing of certain traditions in the Catholic ethos in general. In many parts of Latin America, one cannot accuse the Protestants sects of being rationalistic and overly argumentitive. Many of the Pentecostal antics of these groups would make Benny Hinn blush. In a common stunt in Brazil, a preacher tells the television viewer to put a glass of water on top of the television set and the preacher over the airwaves proceeds to “bless it”, and afterwards tells the viewer to drink the glass of water. Not a whole lot of apologetics going on there.

    In spite of how one might regard the dangers of “superstition” in pre-Vatican II Catholicism, in Latin America at least, such things made people feel close to the divine. Nowadays it seems, in many places they see the Pentecostals providing that immediacy. It has little to do with arguments. That perhaps is a very Anglo-Saxon trait that other parts of the world don’t share.

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