Catholic Apologetics

“Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” – St. Ignatius of Antioch, 110 AD

 

Welcome to A Catholic Thinker, a website dedicated to Catholic apologetics (meaning refuting the arguments of non-Catholic Christians as well as the atheist position).

 

I will state firstly that I am a layman and not a professional apologist.  I have written the essays on this site over a period of nearly a decade, rewriting some of them occasionally, and I do so as my free time allows.  I do not read or speak Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, and my Latin is barely passable, and so I rely on the works of professional apologists often (and cite them when I do).

 

Why do I engage in Catholic apologetics?  That is to say, why do I defend the Catholic Church (note: this means the Church, not the people in the Church, which is something completely different) and attempt to make converts to Catholicism?  Because I can say I know with moral certainty that the Church's 2,000 year-old claims about Herself are true: She is the specific, visible, hierarchal Church founded by Christ (as detailed in the New Testament and thousands of other non-inspired by historically-accurate documents). I will assert that anyone who looks at all the evidence with a mind completely free of prejudice of any kind and a will that seeks truth above all things will embrace this truth.

 

A related motivation for me is to spread the unbridled joy that seeing, understanding, and accepting the Bride of Christ brings.  As with all divine creations, she is a thing of indescribable beauty (the farthest thing from the sad, distorted caricature that her enemies paint).  And, in particular, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is – literally – Heaven on Earth, and reception of the Holy Eucharist the most intimate, beautiful means to be united to God Almighty here in this life in exile.

 

Every human being has the moral duty to embrace truth - that is a tenet of any Judeo-Christian worldview.  Furthermore, every Christian should have a burning love for Truth in every form and seek it always no matter where it leads and no matter the sacrifice required.

 

My purpose in engaging in debate is to express truth, done in the service of God.  (In fact, such debate, done with charity, falls into the category of spiritual works of mercy, as it is done for the good of souls, either those debating, those listening, or both.)

 

The world is full of both stark ignorance and vast amounts of egregious misinformation about the Catholic Church: Her history, her teachings, what she is.  This is true of both the secular world and the Protestant[1] world - and since Western culture is both secular and Protestant (but decidedly not Catholic), this problem is very pervasive.  (Sadly, modern Catholics are so poorly catechized that the vast majority of them don't know their faith either.)

 

There are a great many sincere, well-meaning people who believe incorrect things about the Church through no fault of their own.  They believe things they have heard or read and are in a state of invincible (innocent) ignorance.  

 

However, there are also, unfortunately, people who carry an actual prejudice against the Church - by which I mean an intentional closing of the mind; a hostility that prevents one from seeking truth with the full capacity of the intellect.  This tends to manifest itself in behavior such as refusing to engage on relevant points (indeed, the most relevant points) in debate, stubbornly sticking to incorrect information or interpretations about Catholic teaching (it's so much easier to debate a straw-man even if it doesn't actually exist), and personal attacks.

 

This phenomena is, sadly, so common in the world of anti-Catholic polemics that it does need a brief mention in any introduction to Catholic apologetics.  And that is why I mention it.

 

[On that note, I will not spend my time debating those who are interested in winning arguments more than pursuing truth.  I realize that I do not have the power to force any person to accept something they will not to and so not convincing someone by no means implies "losing" a debate.  With that, I certainly do not mean to imply that disagreeing with me implies a person is not honestly seeking truth!  But, during the course of conversation, it can become apparent that that is in fact the case.]

 

What are the reasons for all of this anti-Catholicism in the world?  A practical reason for its perpetuation is the fact that so much of this mythology simply gets repeated and accepted verbatim with no critical thinking or real investigation.  However, that does not explain the root causes.

 

All Christians accept that "the world", led by its prince, is the enemy of Christ, for He said so Himself.  We also know that Christ built a church, for He said exactly that Himself as well.  If there is really such a thing as "the true Church" - the actual visible, hierarchal Church founded by Christ (and there is), it stands to reason that the enemy would attack it.  He would attack it with greater intensity and persistence than other, separated Christian communities.  (We might say that it is not difficult for him to find partners in his persecution, willing or not, for the reason that true Catholicism lived fully is not always easy.)

 

With that brief introduction, here is a high-level overview of the Catholic apologetics material on this website (the material pertaining to general theistic apologetics is unrelated).  This is also a summarization of the most powerful arguments for Catholicism.

 

- It turns out that a careful (some might even say cursory) reading of the New Testament demonstrates the existence and the validity of the Catholic Church.  Its existence, because Christ most clearly "built a church" (yes, indeed, "on Peter") and promised that this church will both never fail and will be divinely protected from error (that is, infallible, within certain parameters).  From this alone (and we can include the vast amount of supporting information in the New Testament demonstrating that a hierarchal, authoritative, specific, visible church, with the apostles as first leaders who then ordained others, did exist) we must conclude that this "church" still exists.  If it did not, Christ would have been wrong.  Knowing this, we simply have to look for a church that exists today that is descended from that of Peter and the apostles, and there very clearly is only one such Church.  It is a fact acknowledged by even secular historians that the popes extend through history in an unbroken line back to Peter, who named his own successor before his martyrdom in Rome.  There is only one church that even claims to have a hierarchal authority structure descended directly from the apostles with also a head descending in an unbroken line from Peter.  (Of course there are now dozens of protestations.  This is what the essays are for - there are no protestations with real teeth.)

 

- The primary basis of Protestantism is the doctrine of sola scriptura (Scripture alone - that Scripture alone is authoritative).  It is easy to demonstrate that this doctrine is both illogical and unscriptural.  Illogical, because one must rely on an authority outside of Scripture to know the canon of Scripture (that is, what truly is Scripture, for this is not at all self-evident and was the cause of centuries of discussion and debate - which still continues, actually, since the "reformers" removed many books from their Bibles that had been part of the Bible since there was a Bible).  And it is unscriptural, because Scripture itself tells us over and over again to obey the oral Tradition of the apostles, to obey our "prelates" (priests and bishops) and that it is the Church, not the Bible, that is the very "pillar and foundation of the truth".

 

- Virtually by definition, sola scriptura implies private interpretation of Scripture.  This is a practice both wholly unknown to the early Church (indeed, essentially unknown before the Reformation except in small, short-lived heretical sects) and one that leads inevitably to a continual multiplication of new Christian communities based on doctrinal differences - that is, to the situation that now exists, with over 30,000 distinct Protestant communities extant.  (Some Protestants have taken affront at this figure, but it comes from Protestant sources.  In any event, it makes no real difference if the number were 30,000 or three, for Christ demanded that his followers be “one”.)  One will find no examples in the New Testament of individual Christians authoritatively interpreting Scripture on their own - instead, they are bound to the authority of Church leaders, the apostles and their successors.  

 

(Of course, the New Testament didn't exist during this time.  Years and decades passed before the gospels were written, more time until the latest epistles were penned, then the Apocalypse, and it would be over three centuries until the New Testament canon was settled definitively - until that point there were regional variations regarding what was considered inspired Scripture and read at Mass and what was not.)

 

- Actual history shows us beyond the shadow of any doubt that the Christian Church was Catholic.  The testimony of the Church Fathers - bishops and priests of the first to third centuries - demonstrates that in every area that is now a matter of Protestant disagreement the early Church embodied the Catholic teaching and practice.  This includes the Eucharist & the other sacraments, the priesthood, the necessity of a visible and concrete Church structure, Apostolic succession and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, Purgatory and praying for the dead, honoring saints including the Mother of Christ, the role of Apostolic Tradition, and more.  The early Church was, as is the Catholic Church today, entirely sacramental, with the Eucharist as the absolute center of spiritual life.  We are speaking in some case of Fathers that knew the apostles directly, such as Polycarp and Irenaeus, both of whom were disciples of John.  We must conclude that the Christianity of these men and this time was the Christianity of the Apostles and of Christ Himself.  There exists, in fact, from Apostolic times to the present a complete and total continuum of Catholic belief and practice.  As Cardinal Newman, a convert from the Anglican church, once stated, "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant."  It is honestly as simple as that.

 

I will briefly address the issue of corruption in the Catholic Church briefly here.  There are many today who would give as reason for rejecting the Catholic Church the scandals of priestly abuse that have erupted in the last decade.  These events were and are shocking and disgusting beyond words.  However, the men committing these acts were men, and not the Church.  The Church is not the people in it - a concept that many non-Catholics have a difficult time understanding.  And that is understandable, as they know that their churches are human institutions started by men.  But Christ's Church is a divine institution though populated with imperfect people, as has been noted.  Christ's parable of the wheat & the chaff foretold the bad seeds in the true Church, and the fact that they'd be often hard to spot as well.  (Few people are aware that the chaff he referred to is a weed that looks almost identical to a wheat plant.  Thus, it would not necessarily be easy to spot the wolves - His parable has real subtlety.)  What is relevant is that the doctrine & dogma as taught officially by the Church through the millennia is true, and that the Church is still His Church that acts with His Authority regardless of sinners within it - even if some of them are ravenous wolves that will spend their eternity in the deepest pit of Hell.  (God continually demonstrates that it is He who accomplishes all, sometimes through fallible, sinful men.)

 

If you have a question, or a comment, or are someone who would like to link to my site, I can be contacted via the email at the bottom of this page.  

 


[1] I will explain why I use the term "Protestant" to refer to all non-Catholic Christians (except the orthodox churches in schism).  I am aware that the term has fallen out of favor with many or even most modern non-Catholic communities, who generally insist on being referred to as "Christians" or "Bible Christians".  What's at issue here is identity and accuracy, and the fact is that all of these communities embrace the core doctrines of the Protestant "Reformation" (core doctrines that for the most part did not even exist before this event, incidentally).  It is indeed proper and respectful in general to refer to a group or community in the manner it wishes.  However, again, in a matter where accurate terminology is crucial, the facts must carry more weight.  The terms "Christian" and "Bible Christian" are both ambiguous and useless in making the distinction that is relevant here - Catholic or not.  And, of course, the implication of these groups is that they are the real, or most proper, Christians or "Bible Christians".  But that is not the case.