The Father William Most Collection
Summary of Apologetics
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
There are wild attacks made on Scripture today. Some say Jesus said hardly anything of the words the Gospels give for Him, that He worked no miracles, that after being crucified He was given a criminal's shallow burial, and the wild dogs ate His body.
Can we do anything about these wild claims? First, we can answer briefly but well: what fools would the Apostles be to preach a man who was just criminal, no resurrection, no miracles. How could they convert people to that, especially with no miracles? And what of St. Paul going into sophisticated Greece? If he had nothing but his own unsupported word, no miracles, he would have converted no one.
But there is a fuller and in a way better answer. There is much more we can do. We need a careful rational process called apologetics. We called it rational, since it does not at all appeal to faith - faith comes in later, at the end.
There are two phases, first some preliminary checking on the Gospels, which we look on temporarily as just ancient documents, not as inspired. Second we find 6 vital points which show what we need to know.
The first phase, the preliminaries look for three things about the Gospel writers, whoever they were. We need not insist on the four traditional names, for it was common then to use as pen names the names of famous men.
First question: these writers, did they try to get the facts? Of course. They believed their eternal fate hung on the truth about Jesus. That is plenty of reason. And St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the first Bishops there after St. Peter, was eaten alive by wild animals in the arena. Yet on the way to Rome he wrote to the Roman Christians asking them not to try to get him off - he wanted to die for Christ. Let us get a copy of that letter, read it by the lions' den at the zoo, and ask: How creative was he? How much did he just make up?
Second, did they have anywhere to get the facts? There is a whole litany of sources. First Clement I, elected pope probably in 88 or 92, wrote to Corinth around 95 AD. In that letter he said Peter and Paul were of his own generation. They died about 66 or 67, so likely he had heard them preach. If not, there were hundreds in Rome who had heard them. Then there is St. Ignatius of Antioch, whom we mentioned already. He came from where Peter had preached not long before, where Paul made a sort of headquarters, going in and out of there most of the time on missionary trips. There is also Quadratus, writing around 123, who reports that in his day, there were people alive who had been cured by Christ, or raised from the dead by Him. We need not push that to 123, but it surely covers the decade of 80-90, when the leftists want to say Matthew and Luke wrote. And besides all of these, there would have been teenagers around when Jesus taught and died. Think of a few of them 50 years later. Not so many made it to 65 then, but enough did. At 65 they would be in the year 80, when Matthew and Luke were supposed to have written. They could supply more than a few facts about one so striking as Jesus.
Thirdly, can we get any report that is not marred by subjectivity? For it is said: There is no such thing as an uninterpreted report. Now there is much truth in that charge. But if we look closely, it does not cover everything. A leper stands before Jesus asking to be cured. He says: I will it. Be cured. The structure of that incident is so simple, there is just no room to insert subjectivity.
So if we can get for our 6 points things that simple, we have a basis. And we do, as we can see as we run through the six.
First, there was a man named Jesus. Even pagan historian Tacitus testifies to that. Second, he claimed to be sent by God - this is obvious all over the Gospels. Third, He proved he was such a man by miracles, and not just miracles, but miracles worked with a tie between the claim and the miracle, as when he cured the paralytic let down through the roof to prove he had forgiven sins. Fourth and fifth are things we would just expect: In the crowds he had a smaller group to whom he spoke more. Clearly, the Twelve. He told them to continue His teaching - we see that easily. Finally, once we know what sort of person He is, what credentials He has, it is not at all surprising if he says, on many different occasions such things as: "He who hears you, hears me". This is a simple statement. It amounts to: God will protect their teaching. The Gospels, which we find are good for at least a few simple things, and the group He chose, both testify that He said such things. So He promised God would protect their teaching. Any messenger sent from God with such miraculous powers would be so apt to provide that.
Then we see in front of us a group, can call it a church, with a commission to teach from someone God sent, with a promise of God's protection. Then we not only intellectually may, but must believe what they teach. This gives us a bypass around the foolish quibbles of the the follish writers we mentioned at the start, and others like them. This group or church can tell us the Gospels are inspired - if we did not prove that we would have no right to quote them as inspired. They can tell us that the one sent from God is really God. They can tell us that there is a Pope - for we had not mentioned him, and they can tell us what the pope can do. And they can answer other questions about the content of the Gospels.
So we are not basing ourselves on Cloud nine, but on careful, tight reasoning that does not depend on faith. No other sect or denomination can make such a closely reasoned proof of its divine commission. So the answer: Better believe it!