A guide to resources in apologetics, including two new ones
I have always liked apologetics, or the rational defense of the Catholic Faith. At times this can include not only Catholic principles of faith and morals but Catholic practices which seem bizarre to those outside the fold. One of the most convenient sources for clear explanations and defenses of what Catholics believe is Catholic Answers, founded by Karl Keating back in 1979. A year earlier I had joined three other founding faculty at Christendom College to write and publish a basic apologetics text called Reasons for Hope. In fact, the late 1970s saw a revival of Catholic apologetics, which had essentially disappeared in the cultural and religious upheaval of the previous decade.
In 1983, while still at Christendom, I also published a booklet called “Apologetics: Forgotten Science, Lost Art”. This booklet and Reasons for Hope are now out of print, but both the booklet and some of the chapters of the book have been added to our library on CatholicCulture.org:
- The Resurrection and Divinity of Christ (Jeff Mirus)
- The Foundation and Identity of the Church (Jeff Mirus)
- The Authority of the Pope (Jeff Mirus)
- The Divine Character of the Church in History (Warren H. Carroll)
- Apologetics: Forgotten Science, Lost Art (Jeff Mirus, booklet on the nature of apologetics)
When I founded Trinity Communications in 1985 and began to publish books under that name (ultimately unsuccessfully), some of the titles were oriented toward the direct defense of the faith. When we reinvented ourselves as the website that eventually became CatholicCulture.org, a good deal of my earliest writing online addressed the objections of non-believers, non-Catholics and dissident Catholics. Many of these essays are collected in the following three volumes of our ebook series (downloadable free for registered users), and though I listed these and a few others in Top intellectual approaches to unbelievers back in May, I will include the first three again here:
- Essays on Apologetics, Vol. I. Preliminary Topics: The Human Response to Truth
- Essays in Apologetics, Vol. II. Arguments Directed to Non-Catholics
- Essays in Apologetics, Vol. III. Quarrels within the Church
Again, I am very interested in apologetics, which not only continues to clear away many obstacles to Faith today, but also has its own history as a discipline. If you want to delve deeply into this aspect of it, I can recommend the fine book by Avery Cardinal Dulles entitled A History of Apologetics, which was originally published academically in 1971, later published more widely by Wipf and Stock in 1999, and happily republished, and still available, in a new edition by Ignatius Press in 2005.
The work continues apace as most authentically Catholic publishing houses try to defuse the gross misunderstandings of Catholicism (and even the mischaracterizations from within) which seem to increase rather than diminish as the West spins ever further into secularism. Of course, apologetics in itself is designed to clear away the obstacles to belief, so that those with concerns and questions about Christ and the Church can become more open to evangelization, which (taken in full) is the proclamation of the mercy, love and redemption offered to all by Jesus Christ through His body the Church. And both evangelization and apologetics must be further distinguished from catechesis, which is simply the teaching of the Catholic faith to those who wish to learn more about it, either to enter the Church or to become better Catholics.
Obviously, all three are frequently mixed together, and with good reason. In any case, St. Peter advised the first Christians to “always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15). In saying this, he was talking primarily about apologetics—which is why I entitled that early apologetics text “Reasons for Hope”.
Because of my continuing interest, I tend to notice when new apologetics books are released. Two closely-related titles which have just appeared are Fr. Carter Griffin’s Cross-Examined: Catholic Responses to the World’s Questions, from Emmaus Road Publishing; and Web of Faith: A Curious Catholic’s Answers to Theological Questions by Fr. Ken Brighenti and Fr. John Trigilio, published by EWTN. Both books take a distinctly topical approach to their subjects, and all three authors have contemporary confusion (and even hostility) about the questions they answer clearly in mind.
Fr. Griffin, who is now rector of the St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, DC, has deliberately chosen twenty-five hot-button topics in the culture today and tried to treat them adequately but succinctly in the space of two to five pages. He uses a classic scholastic approach (if you have ever read any of the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, you’ll recognize the method). He begins each topic with a question, then poses several objections which suggest that the question cannot be answered in a way that supports the Catholic position. He then states Church teaching on this question, and finally responds to all the objections. The result is a strong argument that the Catholic answer is actually correct.
Thus, for example, the first three questions in the book are “How can we know that God exists?”, “Was the Resurrection a literal, historical event?”, and “Why do Catholics pray to the saints?” In fact, the number of topics is sufficiently manageable to list all of them here, always remembering that each topic is introduced with a question which demands an explanation and defense of the correct answer. The book is divided into three sections.
God and Eternity
- Existence of God
- Praying to the Saints
- Marian Devotion
Church and Sacraments
- Priestly Celibacy
- Papal Infallibility
- Sola Scriptura
- Assisted Suicide
- In Vitro Fertilization
- Animal Rights
- Capital Punishment (on this question, arguments for and against are explored)
- Gender Dysphoria
- Same-Sex Attraction
- Same-Sex “Marriage”
Web of Faith
Web of Faith offers a somewhat more casual approach to a great many more issues (149 if I counted correctly). This is essentially a printed version of the answers Frs. Brighenti and Trigilio have given on their EWTN television program of the same name. As a result, the questions are more briefly and more conversationally treated, and they are not necessarily devoted to hot-button issues. The point is to answer a large number of the normal questions Catholics have about their own faith, and of course there are two complementary voices participating in each answer. And they are fine voices. Both men have been priests for over thirty years, and both have extensive teaching and pastoral experience.
The book is divided into four main sections: Doctrine, Liturgy, Morality, and Prayer. In each section, a variety of types of questions are answered. So, for example, under “Doctrine”, we learn about the difference between crucifixes and crosses, the nature of original sin, the Trinity, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, the difference between Catholics and Protestants, and “death and suffering”. There is quite a range here, and though contemporary disputes figure in the decisions of what to include, controversy is neither the sole criterion nor an essential criterion for each choice.
Similarly, under Liturgy, we find everything from holy water to celibacy, from fasting to cremation, from annulments to wearing a veil at Mass. The section on Morality covers a wide variety of topics also, from grace to gluttony, from financially supporting the Church to praying in a state of mortal sin. And under Prayer, we jump into such topics as the purpose of litanies, the Presence of God, the Hail Mary, Eucharistic adoration and who goes to Heaven.
The point is that this is a book which defends and advances the faith primarily by explaining it, under its many aspects and implementations, to sincere Catholics who are seeking to more fully live this faith.
I can easily recommend both books for understanding Catholicism more fully, for explaining it better to others, and for defending it more successfully against misunderstanding or even overt hostility. The wisdom of God is often foolishness to men, but we need not contribute to that problem by our own failure to understand what we believe, and why.
Fr. Carter Griffin, Cross-Examined: Catholic Responses to the World’s Questions. Emmaus Road Publishing: 2021. 165pp. Paper $15.95; eBook $15.95.
Fr. Ken Brighenti & Fr. John Trigilio, Web of Faith: A Curious Catholic’s Answers to Theological Questions. EWTN Publishing (Sophia Institute Press): 2021. 368pp. Paper $19.95; eBook $9.99
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