APOLOGIAThe task of the apostle writer - we have stressed this before - is to address ordinary folk and the masses in order to pass the faith on to them. However, this does not mean that the apostle may not or must not concern himself with those persons who, for particular reasons, demand a demonstration of Catholic truths.
Apologia is one of the principal means that the apostle has at his disposal in these particular cases.
Necessity of apologia
The necessity of apologia appears evident from the present-day circumstances of religion as well as from the whole history of Christianity which, from the outset, needed defense.
Jesus Christ himself prophesied that he would be a "sign of contradiction". At the
appearance of the Cross, all human interests, all passions were raised against him: Hebrews and Gentiles, public powers and social influence, prejudice and calumny, philosophy and public opinion. From then on the contradictions against Christ, against his followers and the Church have increased and continued, one could say, uninterruptedly.
Yet there have never been any lack of defenders.
Saint Peter and Saint Paul head the series of apologists. After them, and in every age, from martyrdom's arenas, the halls of universities and from churches, there rose up the powerful voice of defense that silenced tyrants and those who opposed the faith.
History is proof. Left to us in perpetuity are the monuments of knowledge of the major and minor apologists of the second century, preceded by those of the apostolic Fathers and followed up by those of the Fathers, Doctors and Theologians of every age. Such proof varies in keeping with the features assumed by error.
There is no scarcity of apologists at the present time. Among the praiseworthy works that they left us are Hettinger, L'Apologia del cristianesimo; Protestantesimo comparato al Cattolicesimo by Balmes; Il Cristianesimo ai tempi moderni by Mons. Bougaud; Le Conferenze sul dogma by Monsabré; those of Mons. d'Hulst; the works of P. Gratry; those of G. Card. Alimonda,
of Lacordaire, and of Mons. Bonomelli; the Conferences of Mons. L. Bésson; the Apologia del Cristianesimo by Dott. Paolo Schanz; those of (R.P.A.) Weiss and of P. Agostino Gemelli.
The employment of apologetics is on the increase more and more; it is the subject of dissertations and of articles in newspapers, magazines and periodicals, just as it is of conferences given from the pulpit or in Catholic universities.
Although apologia is not the most common and recurrent kind of writing, it must nevertheless be adapted to time and need. Today that need is more necessary than ever for there is an attempt on the part of the enemy to exclude Christianity from the family as well as from national and international political systems. An attempt which, surfacing with humanism and backed by Protestantism, has today expanded enormously and conquered all in its path.
In the midst of this general disaster there are people who need to be enlightened in the truth, strengthened in religious observance, and led to the sources of grace. All this has to be done with more than ordinary means.
It is as much up to the apostle of the press as it is to the apostle of the word to meet the needs of these people by means of apologia so as to make the Christian religion known to them in all its wonder and beauty. Indeed,
there is a greater duty on the apostle of the press because he can reach places, even more so, than can the apostle of the word.
The Sacred Congregation of the Council has sent a circular to the Catholic clergy in which it states that spoken apologia must be made only in exceptional cases and, in such cases, by suitable orators who have received the consent of their Bishop. Even so, it is to be allowed only in certain times and places. Contrariwise, the same Congregation imposes no such limitations on written apologia but encourages it.
If, and when required to do so, the apostle were to neglect this way of doing good, he would not fully fulfill his mission. Popular works will have wider readership and will profit him more. Apologetic works, instead, will generally be a financial burden for him because they have a smaller readership and require greater preparation and care. Such works must not, however, be neglected, because they fall within that scope of the apostolate that is to give God to people and to lead people to God. Such an aim must impel us not to overlook anyone and to provide everyone not just with what is satisfying and sought after but rather with what purifies and leads to God; in other words, what leads to eternity.
Only in this way will the apostle be at the height of his mission and will people be able to say that his driving force is Christian thinking; thinking which he develops in his inner self so as to express it in writing and give it increment through the press in view of reaching people.
Inasmuch as apologia is a defense and a commendation of Catholic doctrine the apostle writer is free to choose both direct and indirect apologia.1
The aim of direct apologia is to make known the basic truths of the faith and to defend them from the attacks of the enemy, to educate those who sincerely seek the truth and to strengthen those who are hesitant or tempted in this respect.
Indirect apologia does not attack a specific error outright. The aim is to counteract the objections and, overall, to set out the truth by affirming it in an authoritative and absolute way and by backing it up with solid arguments.
In direct apologia the apostle must have a clear understanding of the question, a thorough knowledge of the faith and bear in mind the central point of what is being proposed.
For an understanding of the question he needs
to study the facts as well as the philosophical, historical and scientific principles that have given rise to the objection. He has to weigh up their true value, see if the truth of the objection has been proved and if the scientific proof is such and not just a tentative assumption or a private theory.
So far as knowledge of the faith goes he needs to distinguish between dogmas defined by the Church and personal opinion; he needs to know the history of truth.
Then, in order to determine the reciprocal relations between faith and science he will have to make this comparison bearing in mind the distinction of the [1st] Vatican Council, where it is expressly declared that there can be no real contradiction between faith and reason, and that they have a mutual relationship.
Faith defends reason against errors, empowers it in the truths it has secured, raises it to loftier thoughts. If reason, in turn, cannot demonstrate such mysteries, it can nonetheless affirm that they are not absurd. It can explain them basing itself either on the nature of the things or of the facts. It can corroborate them by reasons of convenience and of similarity and by theological reasoning. It can, lastly, coordinate them into a single system.
The topic of direct apologia, or of the lecture, can be all that helps to refute one's adversary. It varies with the type of error and the
kind of adversary. If apologia concerns natural truths, use will be made of natural arguments deduced from philosophy and theodicy, such as: God's existence, his nature and attributes; [use will also be made] of those arguments regarding religion that fashion Catholic and Christian philosophic thinking. If, then, apologia has to deal with supernatural truths use will be made of supernatural truths: the teaching of the Church, Holy Scripture, and Tradition. To these can be added the proofs of history and of theological reasoning; such arguments can be strengthened by demonstrations based on the divinity of the Christian religion as it appears from its absolute and intrinsic perfection, its effects, miracles and the fulfillment of the prophecies, as well as from the witness of the martyrs.
Apologia varies according to the type of adversary. These may be Jews, rationalists, heretics and non-believers...
Different again is indirect apologia. The aim here is not so much to confute the adversary as to set out and prove the truth by means of authoritative and absolute assertions and sound arguments. It is concurrently the task of the philosopher and the teacher, the polemicist and the apologist. It comprises all the arguments of dogma, morals and worship and it is addressed impartially and contemporaneously to both believers and non-believers, attracting the former and refuting the latter.
This form of polemics also requires a preparation similar to the other; and, generally speaking, the same exacting norms.
In modern apologia there is a trend towards subjectivism. It tends to give what pleases and to avoid what vexes. Then there is the apologia aimed at the emotions, based on imagination and poetry.
The press apostle must avoid the former and not be constrained by the limits of the latter. This task of his is all embracing, in line with the integrity of religion and the nature of human beings. Doctrine is the part that has to prevail here but it is not to be separated from the practical part, which transforms and elevates. He is to address his words in particular to the mind but he is not to neglect what is a spur to the will and a stimulus to the heart.
It is well known that apologia is not the kind of speech and writing where success readily follows. This must be the concern of the apostle. Before the great apologist Lacordaire went to the pulpit he undertook a practical grounding in penance and prayer as a prelude to his intellectual preparation. This is what the apostle writer should do too; indeed, even more so because if the spoken word often weaves its spell and charm over the
emotions, the same cannot be said for the written word.
Thus the apostle is to prepare himself to undertake his task as an apologist not only suitably equipped with learning, but also by living a holy life and accompanying his work with much prayer.
When the time comes let him be ready. There will be no one rule for every case. In practice: when he is well-informed about the topic and he has consulted the best and most reliable authors, he is to work out the best form of exposition that will lead to the truth and in a way that is clear and persuasive. His words, enhanced by a holy life, confirmed by grace, conveyed in an inoffensive way not only by his mastery in the art of persuasion, but also by influencing the decision by rousing the feelings and imagination of his adversary, will obtain the desired result.
Let him remember that ability does not depend on telling the whole truth but on saying only and as much as is necessary and appropriate.
Above all, let him not forget the golden rule to not attack or humiliate his adversary but to win him over. His exemplar in this will be Saint Francis de Sales, who with his clear-cut style and understanding of human nature won over 80,000 heretics.
Only if he follows these rules will the apostle be able to fulfill his mission as an apologist and achieve results. Which is not to say that there will be no one who contradicts him.
1 Cf. Grande Dizionario Enciclopedico, (ed.) Prof. Giovanni TRUCCO.