Apologetics (Photocopy)

Introduction: Apologetics


Apologetics is the Church’s perennial task of making evident the reasonableness of the faith. This task belongs to the very identity of the Church not only because of her mission to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth—a mission that includes presenting reasons for the faith—but, even more fundamentally, because of the obligation simply to make manifest the truth of faith and thereby show forth the glory of God. Though the task is perennial, it is one that must be renewed in response to the particular challenges presented to the Church in each age.

Paolo Prosperi, in “The Witness of the Martyrs in the Early Church,” asks why “the martyr [is] the supreme and most paradigmatic witness of the truth of God’s love.” It is the martyr whose handing over of himself images and therefore manifests and witnesses to Christ’s death and Resurrection in the most complete way. The martyr is not merely a Christianized version of the Greek mythological hero, says Prosperi, because the martyr “is given to become a hero at the very moment of his suffering and death, a witness he would never be able to give without the active presence of Christ in him.”

D.C. Schindler’s “On Reason’s Authority” explores the metaphysical underpinnings of apologetics. “Philosophical truth,” he writes, “does not seem to require any authority because it can speak for itself—indeed its dignity lies in doing so.” But truth requires someone to tell it: the question then is “whether and to what extent personal witness has significance for the truths of reason.” It is indeed essential, Schindler insists, for “personal involvement in the manifestation of the meaning of things reveals that there is no created truth that is not mediated by the ‘subjective’ aspect of freedom, no matter how ‘objective’ the truth may be.”

In “‘Faith is Obvious’: The Apologetics of Creation,” Mary Taylor ponders the sense in which the world has lost its self-evident character—as creation. Taking as her starting point Péguy’s statement that, “in order not to believe, you would have to do violence to yourself,”1 Taylor sets forth several “violent” modern ideologies regarding the natural world. She looks to Edith Stein for assistance in explicating a fuller understanding, showing the martyred saint—St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross—to be a concrete witness to the experience of beauty in creation as well as to the catholicity of reason. In contrast to the common view of apologetics as, above all, the constructing of arguments, Taylor shows that creation itself is a manifestation of the truth of God when we receive it as a gift in the spirit of the child.

Randall B. Smith’s “‘If Philosophy Begins in Wonder’: Aquinas, Creation, and Wonder” presents an extended reflection, in terms of wonder, on the apology creation offers not only for herself but also for her creator. “The authentic Christian sacramental theology of creation,” writes Smith, “provides the sort of pre-philosophical worldview that can nourish, and equally importantly continue to sustain, the wonder necessary for philosophy,” and thus for the humanum itself.

In Retrieving the Tradition, we offer Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s 1977 symposium address on “The Primacy of the Pope and the Unity of the People of God.” In this paper, Ratzinger highlights the sense of papacy as a symbol of personal and particular witness to the Cross of Jesus Christ, or what he calls the “martyrological structure” of papal primacy. Ratzinger unfolds his argument in relation to the theological treatise of Cardinal Reginald Pole written in the mid-1500s, in which Pole rejects Henry VIII’s proposed remarriage along with his claim on behalf of Royal Supremacy and thus the supremacy of state power. According to Pole, “the majestic titles pertaining to Christ as God by nature” are received by Christ in his humanity “only after his humiliation, and this is true analogously for the pope as Christ’s representative.” How is it, then, that the Chair of Peter upon which the Vicar of Christ sits is similar to the Cross to which Christ was nailed? Ratzinger cites Pole: “During his entire pontificate [Peter] never descended from (the Cross), but rather, ‘exalted with Christ’ according to the spirit, his hands and feet were fastened with nails in such a way that he wished, not to go where his own will urged him, but rather to remain where God’s will guided him (cf. Jn 21:18). . . .”

In a word, says Ratzinger, “attachment to the Word and will of God because of the Lord is what makes the sedes a cross and thus proves the Vicar to be a representative. . . . Professing the Lord’s death and Resurrection is his whole commission and personal responsibility, in which the common profession of the Church is depicted as personally ‘binding’ through the one who is bound.” Only in the obedience of the Cross does the Vicar abide as “repraesentatio Christi in the age of this world,” keeping his powerless power “present to counterbalance the power of the world.”

Also in Retrieving the Tradition, we recall a classic example of witness: the trials and torture of St. Maximus the Confessor (580–662), in the “Dispute Between Maximus and Theodosius, Bishop of Caesarea Bithynia.” In 638, the emperor Heraclius, together with the Patriarch Sergius, produced a letter (Ekthesis) defending the idea that Jesus Christ had two natures but one will, a form of Monetheletism that they hoped would be acceptable both to Chalcedonians and to Monophysite (=“one nature”) followers in the empire. This document initially received widespread support, but resistance soon increased, led especially by the monks Sophronius and Maximus. Constans II became emperor in 641; and, in an effort to resolve continuing political unrest, he issued an imperial edict (Typos) in 648 which ordered that all discussion about the Monothelite doctrine must cease, and that all theological positions were to be as they were prior to the controversies. Maximus refused to accept Monotheletism as well as this edict, and was brought to a first trial in 655—following which he was sent into exile—and a final trial in 662.

We publish here the exchange between Maximus and Bishop Theodosius, who was sent by the emperor in 656 to persuade Maximus, while he was in exile, to accept the “compromise” of the Typos. The “Dispute” is a word-for-word account of the exchange that was probably written by Anastasius, the disciple of Maximus, along with Maximus, shortly after the events took place, in 656–57. In the exchange, Maximus insists again and again that he is not committed to his own teaching, but rather to the common teaching of the catholic Church. To Theodosius’s insistence that the Typos was demanding the “silencing of words” in order “that all might be at peace with each other,” Maximus responds by asking: “what believer accepts an arrangement which silences words that the God of all arranged to be spoken through the apostles and prophets and teacher?” Maximus continues: if, therefore, in examining innovative doctrines which have emerged in our times, “we find that they have resulted in this utmost evil, beware lest under the guise of peace we are found to be sick with apostasy, and preaching it, which the divine apostle said would come before the advent of
the Antichrist.”

In the face of the assertion against Maximus that “the laity [might] be harmed by too subtle words” in the continuing controversy over the Typos, Maximus replies: “On the contrary, each person is sanctified by the scrupulous confession of the faith, not through the abrogation of it, which is found in the Typos.” When it is objected to Maximus that the Typos “did not abrogate but ordered silence, in order that we might all enjoy peace,” Maximus responds: “The silencing of words is the abrogation of words: through the prophet the Holy Spirit says: ‘There are no speeches nor words of which their voices will not be heard.’ Therefore, the word that is not uttered in no way exists.” The final trial of Maximus ended with his tongue being ripped out, so that he could never speak again; and his right hand being cut off, so that he could never write again. Maximus died a few months later. His teaching was formally affirmed by the Church at the Third Council of Constantinople in 680–81.

Finally, in Why We Need . . . , we present Stratford Caldecott on Coventry Patmore. Caldecott explains why Patmore, a little known nineteenth-century English Victorian poet and essayist, represents “the best part of the Romantic movement,” while at the same time surpassing it: Patmore holds at the core of his thought that “nature’s innermost form is symbolic.” Combining this insight of Patmore with his great attentiveness to nature—in particular to the relationship between male and female—Caldecott suggests why Patmore “could be called—somewhat anachronistically, but no less rightly—the Poet of the Theology of the Body.”

We follow Caldecott’s article with excerpts from Coventry Patmore’s book of aphorisms and short poems, The Rod, the Root and the Flower. Patmore writes in the foreword that he wishes to discover and report “how the ‘loving hint’ of doctrine has ‘met the longing guess’ of the souls who have so believed in the Unseen that it has become visible and who have thenceforward found their existence to be no longer a sheath without a sword, a desire without fulfillment.”

—The Editors