Apologetics, Catechesis, Evangelization

Have you ever tried to sit on a two-legged stool? Of course not. But a good number of Christians, including some Catholics, often try to employ two-legged stools when it comes to learning, knowing, sharing and defending the Faith.

I have two stools in mind. The first is described in Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, when it summarizes the vital relationship between tradition, Scripture and the magisterium. Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture, explained the council fathers, form “one sacred deposit of the word of God.” Combined with the Church — “the entire holy people united with their shepherds” — they are united in “holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the Faith.” The magisterium, the “living teaching office of the Church,” serves tradition and Scripture by “teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit.” These three — tradition, Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church — are “so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others … together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls” (see No. 10).

Remove any one (or two!) of the three legs and problems arise. Without the magisterium, people become popes and councils unto themselves; without tradition, people become captives of the present age; without Scripture, people become cut off from the life-giving light of God’s Word. There is no conflict between the three, as each is a gift from God and oriented toward the final end, which is, by God’s grace, eternal communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The second leg consists of evangelization, catechesis and apologetics. Evangelization comes in various forms, but preaching is an essential form, as evidenced in the Acts of the Apostles; it has the same Greek root word as “gospel” since evangelization consists in proclaiming the “good news” of Christ. In addition, the preaching of the apostles, “handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thes 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3)” ( Dei Verbum, No. 8).

The Greek word katekhizein means to teach or instruct by word of mouth, and so it is in many ways a continuation and deepening of the original message of the Gospel. An apologia is a defense of a belief, made by speaking. In the early Church, communication was mostly through speaking face to face.

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you,” wrote St. Peter, “yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pt 3:15). The words “defense” and “account” have the same root word — logos, or word; it indicates how closely aligned are the defending and sharing of truth. Evangelization and apologetics, when pursued with charity and humility, are complementary. To evangelize is to offer an invitation. Apologetics helps open the door; it clears away misconceptions, questions and false notions. And every Catholic who has been confirmed is called to proclaim and explain, since the Sacrament of Confirmation “gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1303).

It is commonplace (because it is true) to hear that catechesis, evangelization and apologetics have all suffered in recent decades. One reason is that when one is ignored, or even pushed aside, the other two suffer; the stool falls over. Without catechesis and a resulting depth of faith, Catholics aren’t able or willing to evangelize. Without evangelization, Catholics won’t grow in their mission to share the love of Christ and the joy of the Gospel. Without apologetics, Catholics are often prey to attacks and falsehoods. The three support one another; they never compete with one another. They are always meant for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. As the great apologist Peter Kreeft says: “Apologetics is not a job, it is the courtship of souls.”

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Ignatius Insight (www.ignatiusinsight.com). He and his family live in Eugene, Ore.