by Edgardo C. de Vera
What is "Catholic Apologetics?"
Not a few think it has something to do with the Church apologizing for hierarchical misdeeds in the past. “Apologetics” is taken from the Greek word apologia for explanation or reasoning.
In Church parlance it is the science of reasoned explanation in defense of doctrines taught by the Magisterium from the Sacred Deposit of the revealed truths in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, this via intellectual Biblical proofs and Church history with concern for orthodoxy and orthopraxis (the right teaching and right practise).
Apologetics is as old as the Church. From the earliest days the Apostles explained and defended their teachings. Peter cleared the issue of accepting non-Jews into the Faith; Paul disputed the Judaizers' insistence on retaining the Mosaic prescriptions by elaborating on the spirit of the New Law. Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Augustine, John Chrysostom - most all Early Church Fathers squared off with heretics of their day whose syncretistic errors were condemned by Church Councils. Some of the early heresies have resurged; Arianism, for one, a heresy that denies Christ's divinity is central to the Unitarians, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and Iglesia ni Cristo.
Today, widespread ignorance among the Catholic laity and a misunderstanding of basic Faith matters make it easy for relentlessly aggressive, proselytising non-sectarians to hoodwink the clueless for an alluringly simplified Christianity based on the twin doctrinal pillars of Protestant Reformation: Sola Fide and Sola Scripture – Faith Alone and Bible Alone. No need for Church and Sacraments, they say; simply believe in Jesus and find the truth for yourself in the Bible with the Holy Spirit as your guide.
We recall in the 1970s the influx of dozens of young Baptists from the United States who frequented intersections of busy thoroughfares to give away Bible tracts and politely ask for a one-peso donation to fund their ministry. Better-funded groups bought prime time TV slots to air programs of the 700 Club, Jimmy Swaggart, the Bakkers, and other Bible ministries. American Evangelical and Fundamentalist preachers of renown held periodic speaking engagements and established ministries.
Non-sectarian fellowships sprang up everywhere. Sola Fide was stressed as the only requirement to be saved and Sola Scriptura was promoted as the sole authority for a Christian. Led by evangelical zeal (which Catholics lack) they spread out organizing ecumenical Bible Study groups luring many out of the Church with private interpretations and traditional Protestant misconceptions of Catholic doctrines. Such included Bible verses taken out of context aimed at Marian devotions, the papacy, sacraments, use of images in worship and other doctrines. Our bishops were caught flatfooted.
Everyone is aware of the phenomenal growth of non-sectarian Bible fellowships and many of us have a relative or friend who abandoned the Faith for some of these groups. While Catholics and mainline Protestants are involved in friendly ecumenical dialogues in the search for Christian unity, non-sectarians however are busily recruiting the confused and un-catechised into their fellowships using the byword “ecumenism."
Following Vatican II, most seminaries removed Apologetics from the curriculum; a colossal blunder that produced priests unable to hold their own vis-a-vis Bible-thumping Fundamentalists.
All over the land, priests unable to meet the Fundamentalist challenge lost many members of their flock. The inability to adequately explain doctrines was made worse by bad homilies, lax teachings on morality, loss of a sense of the sacred, political clergy, lack of parish-based Bible studies, parishioners’ reluctance to join catechetical programs, and absence of evangelism in parishes. Little wonder then how some become speechless when challenged by non-sectarians and eventually wind up in Bible fellowships.
Aggravating the present-day situation is curious interest in media-hyped, pseudo-scholarly fiction literature among young Catholics. Such include the Da Vinci Code genre and the patronage of spurious Scripture-like Gnostic writings like the Gospels of Mary Magdalene, of Thomas, Judas, etc.; and writings that contain Christological heresies of the first centuries condemned by Church Fathers in Early Christianity. Such fodder is just perfect for a tabloid-mentality mindset intrigued more by fancy than the daily Gospel. Consequently, New Age Christianity with its syncretistic beliefs and relativist "believe what you want” ideal has become more attractive than the hard truths that one must live by.
The average churchgoer is characteristically un-evangelised, lukewarm, hesitant to learn doctrine, gullible for distorted Church history from secular sources, and at times openly defiant of Magisterial teachings especially on issues of sexual morality. How many professed Catholics do you know who truly abide by the Papal Encyclical Humanae Vitae? Faced with these realities the ecclesial hierarchy stressed the need for Apologetics during the Second Plenary Council (PCPII) of 1991.
In the section of "A Renewed Integral Evangelisation'' the bishops noted: “…We need not apologize for apologetic catechesis. Since its birth, Christianity has been subject to attacks from which it has had to defend itself. Jesus had to answer objections to His teachings as the Gospels testify. St Paul had to answer early Christian errors, and charged his disciples to protect the faithful from them while keeping pure the deposit of faith." (Part III Article 222)
John Paul the Great encouraged all Catholics in his Apostolic Letter Duc in Altum to evangelise; to live the Faith in the domestic church that is the home and bring it into the workplace in this contemporary era he called springtime of the new evangelisation. Peter our first Pope wrote, ''Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the love that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence'' (1 Pet 3:15). Every Catholic must therefore be an apologist.
We belong to the Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself (cf Mat 16:17-19). He established only One Church - not several, what the Bible calls the pillar and foundation of truth'' (1 Tim 3:15). The 35,000 plus (still dividing) progenies of Protestant Reformation - sects, denominations, fellowships, para-churches etc. - cannot make the Biblical and historical connections to its divine foundation. The Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit who spoke to the prophets and descended on the embryonic Church at Pentecost is the author of the Sacred Books and does not have 35,000 definitions of Truth!
"Catholic" means "whole, universal, fullness'' (from the Greek katolicos). It was used by Ignatius of Antioch to describe the One Christian Church in 107. Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine and most Church Fathers used Catholic to refer to the One True Christian Faith. Today unfortunately, Christian has been reduced to being a generic term. To be truly Christian is to be Catholic. At the condemnation of the Arian Heresy in the Council of Nicea, A.D. 325, the universal gathering of bishops affirmed in the Nicene Creed "…We believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,'' a profession of faith said in all Sunday Masses the world over [the Philippine Church obtained approval from Rome for the shorter Apostles' Creed in the years following Vatican II)].
Know your Faith! Learn doctrine! Master the Liturgy of the Word proclaimed at daily Mass. Live it! We belong to the Faith that authoritatively put together the Canon of Sacred Scripture at Hippo in AD 393. We are exposed to more Scripture in the Daily Liturgy than all our Separated Protestant brethren lumped together. For starters, they have only 66 books of the Bible to our 73. One need not enroll at a theological seminary for Bible or doctrine course. Basic tools are readily available for the laity in a good study Bible and/or liturgical diary with orthodox commentaries and Catechism of the Catholic Church. Augment these with further studies through audio-visual discs/tapes; readings on Saints, Patristics, Catholic literature past and present, conversion testimonials, plus more from the treasure trove of two millennia.
Brush up on Church history. We have a rich heritage spanning two thousand years. What church-group can claim that antiquity? There is only One Church, the rest are denominations. Shortly after Luther broke away from the Church in the 16th century, the Reformers met at Malburg, Germany to unify their emerging doctrinal differences; they agreed on fourteen out of fifteen Christian principles. Hopelessly divided over the Eucharist they broke apart into four major Protestant groups - the followers of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and the radical Anabaptists. They not only protested against the Church but against each other. That fellowship your friend or relative joined is perhaps less than a decade old and was founded by just another "protester'' like Luther.
John Henry Newman, an Anglican bishop, sought to deepen his love for Scripture in commentaries of Church Fathers and discovered the Church. He converted and in time became a great Cardinal. Said he, "To be steeped in history is to cease being Protestant…” and with all due respect, we append " ... and become a Catholic Apologist, witnessing to the fullness of Truth, in word and in deed.”
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