Catholic apologetics is the defense of the teachings, beliefs and practices of the Church. Its objective is to respond with reasonably and coherent arguments to objections against the doctrine. It seeks to explain subjects difficult to understand, or to refute misconceptions. It leads minds and souls to accept Jesus Christ and thus achieve salvation. Apologetics seeks to reach the heart of man by making him understand the reasons of faith.
The word apologetics comes from the Greek άπολογητικός (apologetikós), which is understood as the formal defense of a belief, or an argument that defends a philosophical or theological proposition. In its evangelical sense it is understood as the exposition of those arguments that persuade the unbeliever to accept Christ and the teachings of the Church.
Colossians 1: 28-29 — To this Christ we announce, advising and instructing all with the utmost effort so that every man may attain Christian perfection. This is the task for which I strive and fight with boldness, strengthened in Christ who works powerfully in me.
The necessity of apologetics
There is often much religious ignorance among ordinary people. We can say that very few Catholics today really know their faith. Even those who have been educated in Catholic institutions often have a superficial, even erroneous knowledge of Catholicism. It is regrettable to see that many—even those who have taken holy orders—fail to teach the people how to effectively defend their faith. This is how by our negligence the Church suffers the loss of so many souls that fall into indifference, superstition, agnosticism, or under the influence of sects.
If the Catholic people do not know the doctrine of the Church well, it is because they do not know its foundations and therefore cannot coherently demonstrate the integrity of their own faith.
1 Peter 3: 15-16 — Be always ready to present a defense of your faith to anyone who wants to know the reasons for the hope that dwells in you; but always do it with kindness and reverence.
The word translated here as ‘present a defense’ is apologia. Possibly, the ideal model of the Christian apologist is Saint Paul. In the New Testament we see that Paul reasoned with Jews and pagans to make them understand the Christian faith, responding to the objections of his audience with reasonable answers.
Acts 17: 17 — So [Paul] argued in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentiles who feared God, and daily in the forum with those who were there.
Paul prepared others for the apologetic task, explaining that they should “demolish the arguments and everything that pretends to oppose the knowledge of God.”
2 Corinthians 10: 4-5 — Because the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, to take every thought captive to obey Christ.
On this need of our time, the bishops who produced the Aparecida Document on May 13, 2007, commented:
“Today the authentic apologetics practiced by Church fathers as explanation of the faith must be restored. Apologetics in itself does not have to be negative or merely defensive. Rather it entails the ability to say clearly and convincingly what is in our minds and hearts, as Saint Paul says, “living the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Today more than ever Christ’s disciples and missionaries need a renewed apologetics so that all may have life in Him.”
First we have to know our faith
To defend the faith, it is necessary to know it well. The apologist must be familiar with at least the texts of Sacred Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the works of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the content of the main papal encyclicals, as well as the work of good contemporary Catholic authors. Thank God, we live in a time when access to all that good information is increasingly fast and abundant, not only in the form of printed books but also audiovisual seminars, good websites and Catholic presentations on the Internet.
When we respond to an objection against Catholic doctrine, we must know how to respond in an orderly manner. Let us take for example, the typical and frequent challenge to the use of images in the Church. The Old Testament is often quoted by critics of the Catholic Church, arguing that the use of images is explicitly forbidden. We will not go into the details of the response—the reader will find it in the chapter titled Images in this same book—but we will analyze the components of the argument namely: authority, mode, historical context and logical context. Those elements will then serve to guide us in most cases when we have to defend the faith,
Let us consider the most important point: what authority does a person have to criticize or deny any Catholic doctrine using the Bible to argue against the Church? In reality, that person has no authority, because he is using a Catholic book that the Church has composed, authorized, and sanctified in several ancient councils. He who takes upon himself the right to interpret something he does not know well, stands outside the ecclesial tradition and tries to turn the meaning of the Scriptures against the Church. That is exactly what Satan does when he tempts Christ by using what is written in the Old Testament. Notice how Jesus and the enemy use Scripture.
Mateo 4: 1-11 — Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Depart from me you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
The person who argues against Catholic doctrine using his Bible, is implicitly affirming that the Christians of twenty centuries have been wrong. But don’t worry! Here he is to correct the error! This attitude of the critic opposes the work of the Christian community of the ages, as if nothing matters but the critic’s own opinion. All he has is a hasty interpretation of something that has already been considered many times by the Church through the centuries.
In general, the mode of interpretation of those who criticize Catholic doctrine is often absolute and literalist. Usually, in objections to the millennial practice of the Christian faith, the meaning of Scripture is reduced to a literal interpretation that suits the heretic’s argument. To be valid, that construction should be consistent with the whole of Scripture and with itself.
The common argument against the use of images often uses the third commandment:
Deuteronomy 5: 8-9 — “You shall not make for yourself an idol or carved image of what is in heaven above, or what is on the earth below, or what is in the waters below the earth. You shall not bow down before them or worship them, for I am the LORD your God, a jealous God who punishes the wickedness of those who hate me, in the first, second and third generation.”
At first glance it seems that the critic’s objection is right. Of course, this mode of argument should be applied consistently to all the Scriptures and especially to the words of Christ.
Matthew 18: 9 — “And if your eye makes you stumble, pull it out and throw it away …”
Luke 14: 27 — “And he who does not carry his cross and follow me can not be my disciple.”
Luke 9: 60 — Jesus said to him: “Let the dead bury their dead; and you follow me, and announce the kingdom of God. ”
If we take these scriptures using a consistent mode of literal interpretation there would be many faithful without eyes, there would be no Christian cemeteries, and we should drag a Roman cross all day to be followers of Christ. Obviously these words were directed to a community that knows how to handle the symbols that Christ used to communicate his doctrine: the cross is Christian surrender to the will of God. Cutting off a member means renouncing to illicit pleasures. Spiritually speaking, “the dead” are people who do not follow Christ, etc. The Church, shares with Christ—and with the believers of the past through Sacred Tradition—a language, a way of understanding things and not merely a book of instructions that anyone can interpret freely.
This problem of contradiction between consistency and literal interpretation becomes apparent among Protestant Christians when we consider the Eucharistic verse:
John 6: 53 — Jesus said to them, “Most verily I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
The critic then changes his mode of interpretation here. His literality disappears and now he tells us that Christ “must be speaking in a symbolic way.” The problem with this inconsistency is that the interpreter must establish himself as an absolute judge of how to understand the Bible, and in doing so, he is skillfully tempted to put himself in the place of God and of the Church; the same Church that Christ established for His purpose giving it the authority to interpret and sanction the rules of community life.
Both for our ancestors in the faith, the Hebrews, and for us, the written Law is “an instructor leading us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). The written Law is not an inflexible master who limits us to the strict letter. The written law of God, the Holy Scripture, is “useful to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) but it does not contain everything that the community of believers practices and lives. The community itself practices or “keeps” the doctrine of faith: “If I am delayed, know how to behave in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3: 15)
Religion was never reduced to following a book of instructions. Never in the life of Israel, nor later in the life of the Church. It was left to the community of the wise men of Israel who “bind and loose” in a collegiate way, reasoning the Law in light of their living experience as a people. Both things, what is written and what is practiced must be consistent and can not be contradictory. Notice the Law does not contain every liturgical, legal or practical detail. To interpret those things in Mosaic Law there is the “chair” or authority of Moses.
Let us reflect carefully on these words of Christ:
Matthew 23: 2-4 — ” The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.”
Christ clearly points to the good instructions of the sages who study the Law but reminds us that they are human, and although their instructions are guided by the Law, their way of life does not always reflect the wisdom of God. With this, Christ reminds us that the Law operates in the context of original sin from which no one can escape. We are naturally unjust judges and personal perfection does not belong to us. What we can do is live in community and keep the Law as a people. That was the case with the people of Israel, a “holy people” set apart for God by the Law.
The Church, which is heir to that mission, is also a “holy” community because it is set apart for the service of God. It keeps within itself the things that God has sanctified: Sacred Scriptures, Sacred Liturgy, Sacred Tradition. These things are too great to be entrusted to the interpretation of a single individual reading the Law. In the past there were insolent groups that dared to violate God’s law with distorted interpretations.  We must understand that it is impossible for an individual to try to build the religion of truth by interpreting the Word of God from scratch. It is the Church under God, the community of the faithful, which will keep what was received, acting as a “column and bulwark of the truth.”
Neither the Jews nor the Christians ever had complete written instructions for the liturgy in Scripture. The details of the Levitical celebrations, are mentioned in Scripture but not in all detail. It is impossible to reconstruct the Levitical liturgical duty from the Mosaic Law. Take for example the very important celebration of the Day of Atonement:
What is the work of each priest on the Day of Atonement? How many of them participate? Where do they stand? What do they sing? How do they dress? It is true that there are some details in the Old Testament. Yet. if we have to reconstruct it all using only the Bible we are in a bind because there is not enough information. Trying to rebuild that from Scripture will result in a series of assumptions where mistakes could happen at every step. In the same manner, it is impossible to re-create the practice of Christianity precisely using only the Bible.
Christianity is not a book, it is a way of life. My father did not leave a set of written instructions telling me specifically how to be his son, or how to be a good citizen, etc. Nor is there a book that contains in detail everything a Christian should be, and how the community should be shaped. The Church was founded by Jesus to last until he returns, not to collapse and be rebuilt by someone using the Scriptures. That is why we have family life, where we learn to behave properly in the family context, in the community, in church, etc. Again, we quote Saint Paul:
1 Timothy 3:15 — “If I am delayed, know how to behave in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
The Holy Tradition of the Church is equivalent to the life of a family, where each generation learns from the preceding generation. All of them live in the Church guarded by God as He promised. Otherwise, there is no way to hold the Church together. If each believer has his final and absolute “interpretation,” acting as his own pope, divisions will surely follow. Those who divide, work on their own spiritual destruction and the destruction of other souls that are led along to error. That is why it is necessary to defend the faith with knowledge of the truth, presenting reasonable evidence as the base of Catholic doctrine, preparing the way for conversion, appealing to the intellect and the common sense of each individual.
Mission of the apologist
How should we approach apologetics? It is good to keep in mind that we intend to demonstrate not the intelligence of the apologist but the “Good News” that invites us to enter into a salvific relationship with God. This can only happen through Jesus Christ, in the fullness of faith that only the Catholic Church can offer. All the apologetic effort must be oriented to conversion, even in the case of the most bitter opponents.
Apologetics has its limits. It can not by itself demonstrate the totality of the Catholic faith no matter how persuasive its arguments may be. Faith is a gift from God and only God knows the right time for the conversion of a soul. Having that in mind, we must respect the dignity and free will of each person.
Winning a debate in an offensive or blunt manner can result in the loss of the soul, a failure for which we will have to respond one day. Souls are driven to salvation by the Holy Spirit. Arguments are merely a means that serve the noble purpose of bringing the soul closer to the action of the Spirit along with prayer and reflection.
First mission: To announce the good news
First and foremost we must announce the Good News. We have to let people know that God is good and a benefactor, and he wants every man to benefit from knowing him. It is at that moment that the intellectual objections to the call of the Gospel arise in the unbeliever. When we reason with that person, we eliminate the obstacles that separate the unbeliever from being a believer. Thus, as the apologist responds to his objections, he is left without excuses before God.
1 Corinthians 12: 3 — No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
Second mission: Prepare the way for the action of the Holy Spirit
As we eliminate objections, we prepare the way for the Holy Spirit to act. Frequently our efforts are the means chosen by God to interest the unbeliever in the Gospel. Many converts testify to having heard or read the words of an apologist, when an inner light convinced them that they were listening to the truth.
As a farmer tills the soil before planting the good seed, so the apologist prepares the ground. The farmer cannot make the seed grow but it creates the conditions for it to prosper according to the natural force that God has placed in it.
1 Corinthians 3: 6-9 — I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Third mission: Affirming believers in the faith
Preparing to defend the faith prepares us to bear witness of Christ and protects us from the deceitful and ever changing propositions of the world. As Saint Paul has said:
Colossians 2: 8 — “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.”
It is evident that the spirit of modernity is in complete opposition to God’s plans. Catholics are often defamed in the media, which presents them as ignorant, retrograde, believers in obsolete doctrines that impede human progress.
In these times apologetics helps us to reinforce and confirm the believers in their faith so that their testimony is clear and reasonable
Acts 19: 8 — He went into the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.
Questiones Disputatae de Veritate 14, X, 9 — “Faith does not destroy reason but goes beyond it and perfects it …” St Thomas Aquinas.
We should not fear the supposedly intellectual arguments of those who oppose the faith. Our God is not imaginary, he is the living God and it is impossible to prove that He is false. Our defense of Catholicism must be such that it serves to strengthen and train other Christians, so that they know how to distinguish truth and error, affirming themselves more and more in the faith.
Fourth mission: Responding to aggressive arguments
Attacks on the Catholic faith are frequent, therefore it is imperative that our behavior be irreproachable and consistent with our preaching and doctrine.
1 Peter 2: 12 — Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
Whenever the faith is defamed, we must be prepared and be skillful in investigating and finding information that demonstrates the falsity of those attacks.
These days there are some who accuse those who faithfully follow Christ for the misconduct of some who follow Judas. We have been prophetically warned:
2 Peter 2: 2-3 — Even so, many will continue in their licentious ways, and because of them the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
It is important to know how to explain human errors so that in our effort to defend what is Catholic, we do not end up defending the errors of bad Catholics.
The apostles did not hesitate to describe the conduct of Judas in all its shameful ugliness. We owe allegiance to God first of all.
John 12: 4-6 — But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who later betrayed him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.
The apologist must form his intellect diligently and carefully so that his work will glorify God. He has given us a measure of intellectual capacity and the best we can do is to use it well to help those who are lost and wish to return to God.
In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, John Paul II summed up perfectly the task that is set before us:
Redemptoris Missio, 3 — “People everywhere, open the doors to Christ! His Gospel in no way detracts from man’s freedom, from the respect that is owed to every culture and to whatever is good in each religion. By accepting Christ, you open yourselves to the definitive Word of God, to the One in whom God has made himself fully known and has shown us the path to himself. The number of those who do not know Christ and do not belong to the Church is constantly on the increase. Indeed, since the end of the Council it has almost doubled. When we consider this immense portion of humanity which is loved by the Father and for whom he sent his Son, the urgency of the Church’s mission is obvious. On the other hand, our own times offer the Church new opportunities in this field: we have witnessed the collapse of oppressive ideologies and political systems; the opening of frontiers and the formation of a more united world due to an increase in communications; the affirmation among peoples of the gospel values which Jesus made incarnate in his own life (peace, justice, brotherhood, concern for the needy); and a kind of soulless economic and technical development which only stimulates the search for the truth about God, about man and about the meaning of life itself. God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
The urgency of this mission can not be minimized. We are called to act as the Christians of the first centuries did. It is up to us to be once again the salt of the earth and to give life with the Gospel to a dying world. Our culture that has lost its way and is dangerously close to the abyss of extinction. Catholic apologetics is the fundamental tool of this new evangelization of the world.
Please remember to pray for (and if possible donate to) this ministry during Lent season.
 Conclusive Document, V General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, given on May 13, 2007 in Aparecida, São Paulo, Brazil.
 It happened to the Sadducees and Pharisees, who opposed their interpretation of the Law to Christ himself, thus committing the worst crime in history.