Tag Archives: philosophy

You, Child, are Our Bond

A fantastic little meditation on Fatherhood. With Rosebud #2 on the way (due November 8), this really hits home.

Thank you, Dr. Cuddeback.

John Cuddeback

Daddy and His Girl

“And children seem to be a bond of union.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Moved by these words of Aristotle, I write here…
An Open Letter to My Child
Even your father can never tell you, because I cannot fully know, how good it is that you exist. You will ever be a mysterious wonder to me. Here is one thing, however, that I can tell you about yourself. You are a living bond. You bind me to your mother and your mother to me. By who you are; by your very existence.

You have not chosen this, nevertheless it is a truth about you. It is yours. And I cannot tell you how grateful I am.
It’s not because you look like both of us—though you do, and it always makes me smile.
It’s not because you act like both of us—which you do, sometimes in ways that make me blush.
It’s not because you love…

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Reflection: Fifty Years Later

This is an off-the-cuff reflection, meaning my beautiful wife, who normally proofreads blog posts, hasn’t check over this.  Maybe she’ll look at it later, but I wanted to capture the immediacy of my thoughts.

Today marks 50 years since the death of three very important men: President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president of the United States of America, C. S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, and Aldous Huxley, author of the classic distopean novel Brave New World.  The fact that all three men died on November 22, 1963 prompted Catholic philosopher and apologist Peter Kreeft to write his novel Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley.  While not strictly a serious examination of these three men’s thought, the work does look at some of man’s greatest questions as these great men might have answered them.

All three men changed the world in which they lived, but in vastly different ways.  I do not know a lot about any of these men, but I do know something about all of them.  Kennedy became president of the USA in 1960.  He faced great opposition while running because of his Catholic Faith.  In his famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) speech to the Greater Houston Ministreial Association, a group of Protestant ministers in Houston, Texas, he assured his listeners and the American public the following: “Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views — in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”  This speech changed the way in which Catholic politicians in America and around the world viewed their role in government.  More liberal-minded politicians would use Kennedy’s words as an explanation as to why they would not support some law that might seem as if they were supporting the Catholic Church’s view the issue.  More conservative-minded politicians try to critique Kennedy’s words, distancing themselves from liberal Catholic politicians.  

We will never know what might have come from Kennedy’s presidency during the tumultuous sixties.  His death fifty years ago from a bullet fired by Lee Harvey Oswald ended our certainty.  What we do know is that he was a politician.  He wanted to be known as that, not as a Catholic, and so he was.  Everything of his presidency, from his election through the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis to the sordid affairs that everyone remembers from his presidency, capture him as a politician.  And so he was.

C. S. Lewis, one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, held views which put him at odds with many around him.  He wrote in defense of Christianity (Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, etc.), novels of high fantasy (The Chronicles of Narnia series), novels of science fiction (the Space Trilogy), theological fantasies (The Screwtape Letters, The Piligim’s Regress, The Great Divorce), and many essays on various topics.  He was also a literature professor at Oxford and Cambridge, something many fans of his writings forget.  He was a good friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, and with Tolkien and Charles Williams formed the Inklings, a group of writers who would share their works in progress.  Though he never became Catholic, Lewis has brought many to the Faith, like a modern-day Virgil for a new world of Dantes.  He spread the Gospel like few of his contemporaries, a preacher to the nations.

Of these three men, Aldous Huxley has perhaps the most variant life.  He was neither on fire for Christ (in fact, he embraced parapsychology and Eastern mysticism, particularly Vedanta) like Lewis, nor was he involved in political life like Kennedy.  However, Huxley wrote a novel, Brave New World, which presented a world over 500 years in the future, a world where the Henry Ford is held up as a god (and people cross themselves with a T, in honor of the Model T cars).  Here people are grown in factories (with propaganda slogans playing in the background while the fetuses develop), women walk in a world of recreational sex with contraceptives on their belts, and the delightful soma pills provide a drug-induced escape from reality.  Into this world enters the hero, who, raised in the wild with those who do marry and raise children and read alone.  He enters the utopia to find it horrifying and, unaccepted in either his original home among the “savages” or in the cities, he hangs himself (which I TOTALLY did not pick up on when I read the novel in high school).

The novel is a dark glimpse into what we might see in the coming centuries.  Like Children of Men, it predicts a world of sterility.  Like Nineteen Eighty-four it predicts a completely government-run world.  Huxley didn’t live to see the horrors which have plagued our world today, nor did he live to see the explosion of “free love” and over-the-counter contraceptives for preteens.  He did not live to see the expansion of political life into every aspect of everyday life.  Some may call him a prophet, seeing the doom of a coming age.

So there were three men who went to their judgement this day fifty years ago.  One was a politician, a man of crucial words, cut short in a flash of red.  One was a preacher, who preached in the darkness with a light in his hands.  The third was a prophet, whose dire predictions rolled snowball-like through history.  All met God, and all gave an account of their life.  I do not know more than that, and I would not dare to guess where they are now, as many have debated.

We shall see their legacy as the decades progress.  In another fifty years, will their words still matter?

For Further Reading

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/john-f.-kennedy-and-c.s.-lewis-where-are-they-now

Joseph Pearce, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press)

Peter Kreeft, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley (Intervarsity Press)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._S._Lewis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldous_Huxley

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy

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Reflection: Year of Faith – I Believe in God

“I believe in God”

Thus opens one of the oldest prayers in the Christian Tradition: the Apostles’ Creed.  Tradition states that the prayer dates back to the time of the Apostles, if not to the Apostles themselves.  “I believe in God.”  That’s how the prayer begins.  All of our actions, all of our daily lives, everything we think, do, say, everything about us centers on that one phrase, that one belief: there is a God.  The more specific phrase “I believe in one God” comes from the later Nicene Creed, formulated from the First Council of Nicea, held in 325.  This emphasis on there being only one God stems from the controversies that led up to the Council of Nicea.  The heretic Arius had denied the divinity of Christ, saying that to say Christ was divine would imply that there were two gods, not one.  The Council Fathers denied such a claim; hence the emphasis of there being one God.

Early on in Christian history, the believers in Christ had to express their belief in one God.  One could see the possible confusion.  Was there only one God?  The pagans in Greco-Roman culture seemed to say otherwise.  Was Jesus really God, and if so, why not someone else?  These were issues that the earliest Christians, those who followed the Apostles, had to answer.  One sees this in St. Paul’s trip to Athens (Acts 17:16–34).  Paul preached to the Athenian philosophers about the “Unknown God,” to whom the Athenians had an altar in the Areopagus.  This was the one true God, Paul preached.  He was unsuccessful, for the most part: “When they [the philosophers] heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ‘We should like to hear you on this some other time’” (Acts 17:32).  Paul wasn’t entirely successful, but we can see in this episode the early conflict between paganism and Christian monotheism.  This conflict predated Christianity, of course, for the Jews faced a similar conflict with their monotheism, and since the Christian is the spiritual heir of the Jew, he must expect the same conflicts.

If only people today were as polite as the Athenians were to St. Paul.

Today there is a renewed atheism and a renewed paganism.  The agnosticism of today’s world spits in the face of the ancient Greeks and Romans because at least the pagans believed in something, even if it was multiple gods or the spirits of nature.  Even some sort of bizarre mythology where Zeus or whoever had affairs with humans was a step above new atheists and agnostics because at least the pagans knew there was something beyond them, some spiritual realm.  Today’s “New Atheists” don’t believe in anything.  Today we must turn to basic proofs for God’s existence, renewing our basic belief in one God.

Now, fortunately for those speaking with someone who dismisses the Bible as a collection of myths and superstitious stories written down over the centuries, one can prove that God exists using logic, reason, and the natural world, without having recourse to the Scriptures.  St. Thomas Aquinas did just that, borrowing from the metaphysics of Aristotle.  He presents five classic arguments for the existence of God: from Motion, from Efficient Causality, from Necessity, from Perfection, and from Governance.  Since the gist of the arguments all boils down to the same point, I will focus on the first argument, based on Motion.

By Motion, St. Thomas is referring to the tendency of things in creation to go from a state of potency (able to do/be something) to actuality (being/doing something) and then back to potency.  This process occurs throughout creation, and can be seen in all things, living or non-living.  However, as both Thomas and Aristotle note, something cannot be potentially and actually the same thing.  A log cannot be potentially on fire and on fire at the same time.  It is either one or the other.  Things move from one state to another, and in order for a thing to move from potency to actuality, some other force must act upon it (the log doesn’t spontaneously combust; a pyromaniac lights it on fire).  Tracing the series of movements, one ultimately reaches an Unmoved Mover, a thing which is pure Act.  This must be the case, since if there was any potency in this Unmoved Mover, it would not be able to have any actuality in it, since in order for it to move from potency to actuality, an external force must affect it.  This Unmoved Mover is pure Act, and is what people commonly call God.

This proof does not provide a perfect description of God; the other four proofs expand our understanding of God.  The proof from Causality follows the same process as that from Motion, only this second proof focuses on how one cause leads to an effect; however, following the links of causes back to the beginning of time, one must conclude there is an Uncaused Cause, that is, God.

By Necessity, St. Thomas brings the issue of being into the discussion of God.  All things in the universe exist, but they don’t have to.  Things come into existence and they go out of existence, all without the universe collapsing.  Things in the universe share in existence.  They are not existence itself; their essence is something particular to them, but their essence is not existence.  They had to have gotten their existence, their being, from some other source.  There must be something beyond everything else, something which has as its essence existence, which is in its nature Existence itself.  That would be God.

The other two proofs are very simple.  St. Thomas uses Perfection to prove that, because we know something is better than another, there must be a perfect Entity that transcends all other things.  Our understanding of perfection must stem from a perfect source.  That’s God.  At the same time, the argument from Governance states that the order in the universe points to the fact that the universe could not have come to being by accident.  There must have been a great mind behind the universe; that Mind is God.

So God exists.  But what about the specific nature of the first line of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God.”  How do we know Hindus aren’t correct?  How do we know there are not multiple gods out there, or that we all become gods upon our death?  Let us look back at the argument from philosophy just discussed.  You cannot have multiple first causes, multiple sources of being.  You just can’t.  Try to think of a universe with two infinite, perfect sources of all existence.  Two perfect beings would be identical, and there cannot be two purely identical beings; they would be the same being.  It doesn’t make sense to have more than one god.  If it doesn’t make sense to have two gods, it doesn’t make sense to have a whole pantheon, nor to have everything be “God” as found in pantheism.

One God.  Basta, as the Italians say.  Enough.

But don’t Christians say there are three persons in God?  Doesn’t that mean we think there are three gods?

It’s hard to discuss the Trinity.  It’s one of those mysteries of Faith that truly transcends full comprehension.  God’s like that.  The Trinity is not one of the truths of the Faith that is knowable by Reason alone.  We need Faith in order to know God fully, and by knowing God through Faith, we are able to come into close communion with Him.

And we will focus on the Trinity in the next post in this series.

For further reading/listening:

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Catholic Encyclopedia, “God” – Note: This provides links to other articles about God in the Encyclopedia.

Sabatino Carnazzo, “Catechism 102: The Creed”

William Saunders, “Alpha & Omega: God the Father, Creator of the World”

Paul Scalia, “Credo: I Believe in One God”

Robert Barron, et. al, “Faith Seeks Understanding Pt.1: What Is God?” – This is part 1 of a series discussing God, the Trinity, and other aspects of the Faith.  There are links to other parts of the series from this video.

Robert Baron, Catholicism, Episode 3: “THAT THAN WHICH NOTHING GREATER CAN BE THOUGHT – THE INEFFABLE MYSTERY OF GOD” – An episode from the popular series about Catholicism.  See a clip from the episode here.

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Question: Who were the Gnostics

Marcy asks a pretty simple question: “Who were the Gnostics”?

 

The answer is another question: “When”?  At what point in the history of Gnosticism should we focus?  It is a cult that has morphed throughout the centuries, predating Christianity, then sliding into the Church via distortions of the Church’s teaching, dying down only to reappear in various forms throughout the Christian era.

 

Gnosticism falls into that disturbing category of religious movements that one can safely call diabolical.  Like the pagan worship of Moloch and Ba’al, or the widespread slaughters done by the Aztecs in Mexico, there is an essential anti-life aspect to Gnosticism.  This follows naturally from the Gnostic understanding of the material world.  The main trait of Gnosticism is a degrading, if not abhorrent, view of the material world.  Matter is evil, according to a Gnostic.  In its earliest forms, the material world was a mistake created by a Supreme Being (alternately called Sophia [Wisdom] or Logos [Word]).  Sophia/Logos, however, is not THE ultimate Supreme Being.  That is “God,” for lack of a better word, though one should understand that the Gnostic understanding of “God” is not the same as the Christian, Jewish, or Muslim understanding of God.  Sophia/Logos is a lesser, non-God, divine spiritual being.

 

And, according to the Gnostic myth of creation, at some point before all material creation, Sophia/Logos made an error.

 

Usually this error is described as some estranged attempt to understand the Gnostic “God,” who does not seem to like sharing his inner divine life with other divinities.  This prideful error led to “the hypostatization of her (Sophia/Logos) desire in the form of a semi-divine and essentially ignorant creature known as the Demiurge” (Edward Moore, “Gnosticism,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [July 2005], available at http://www.iep.utm.edu/gnostic).  This “begotten” Demiurge then decided, out of some strange ignorance (strange because the Demiurge is sort of divine, like its source) to claim he is a god (in fact, he claims he is the one true God) and create the material world.  He creates the universe in direct violation of the Supreme Being and Sophia/Logos.  Thus the material world is evil.

 

As mentioned above, Gnosticism predates Christianity, though one can see how it easily slipped into the Faith and corrupted it from within.  Gnostics grabbed onto the earliest Christian beliefs, most essentially that the Divine Son became incarnate as a man.  The Gnostics twisted this belief, stretching it to fit into their understanding that the material world is evil, created by an evil god, so to speak.  The “God” in the Hebrew’s Scriptures, the Gnostic taught, was the Demiurge, and thus the craziness of the Old Testament.  This figure Jesus, though, was Logos, who didn’t actually become incarnate (to do so would be to defile himself, since the material world is evil) but rather seemed to have become incarnate (this belief later evolved into the heresy of Docetism, which held that Christ’s human nature was a mirage; this was vehemently condemned at the First Council of Nicea in 325).  The Gnostics skirted around the issue that Logos wasn’t God, but was rather a creature below God.  Instead, they focused on the belief that Jesus came to save our spiritual souls from the evil creator “god,” who wished to imprison us in evil physical bodies.  The death of Jesus, then, was a show, a sort of divine play, more an example of how we should devote ourselves to escaping the prisons of our bodies.  Jesus, the Gnostics taught, was our example of how to be saved from our flesh.

 

The Gnostics also held that their leaders received special, private revelations that supplanted the teaching of the Apostles.  This hidden knowledge gave the movement its name; Gnosticism comes from gnosis, which means “knowledge.”  The existing Gnostic writings often emphasize secret knowledge, often telling stories about Christ teaching secretly to specific disciples.  Perhaps the most famous example of this is the Gospel of Judas, wherein Jesus informs Judas that it is part of the secret revelation that Judas would betray Jesus (who appears and disappears from among the disciples like a ghost, without any sort of physical body; this is different than Christ after the Resurrection for even Jesus’ glorified body wasn’t like a ghost’s, as Luke and John emphasize [Luke 24; John 20 – 21]).  Judas, in turn, would become great when Christ returns at the end of time, judging the other disciples.  It is a classic Gnostic story: the elect receive the secret gnosis, and as a result are blessed.  Mix in the idea that Jesus wasn’t material (hence his ability to vanish) and you have a perfectly Gnostic text.

 

The Gnostics seemed pious, and many followed their beliefs, especially as the first Christian century drew to its close.  The horrors of the persecution against Christians, first in Jerusalem under the Jewish leaders there and then in Rome under Emperor Nero, played into this belief, and many Christians were confused.  Worse still, Gnostics began twisting the teachings of Christ as taught by the disciples for their own purposes, claiming to have received secret revelations from God or from the Logos, explaining how one should live and shed his or her body.  All this, and they seemed so holy, praying for others, avoiding sins, especially sins of the flesh, and urging everyone to embrace eternal life.  Then as now, holiness (be it genuine or fictitious) attracts; a disaster brewed in the EarlyChurch.

 

Enter St. John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, who had walked with Jesus, spoke with Him, and even laid his head upon the Lord’s breast at the Last Supper (John 13:23).  Writing in the twilight of the first century A.D., John knew well the attempts to demonize the Creator of the universe while denying the Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God.  Nowhere is this clearer than the Gospel attributed to this apostle.  The Prologue to the Gospel rings of anti-Gnosticism:

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.  The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father (John 1: 1-14, RSV translation)

 

The whole passage roars against the Gnostics; its wording awkward sounding in English because it stands as testimony against specific Gnostic teachings.  The Word (Logos) is God, and He became “flesh,” meaning He became incarnated, became material.  This was directly against the Gnostic/Docetist belief that Jesus’ body wasn’t material.  Not only that, it affirms the controversial teaching repeated by Christ throughout John’s account: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30; 17: 11, 22).  Likewise, the incident at the crucifixion where the Roman soldier pierces Christ’s side with a lance disproves Gnostic beliefs concerning Jesus’ body.  John is the witness (“He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth — that you also may believe” [John 19:35]) and he includes the event as if to say “See, he was real.”

 

John repeats this teaching in two of his three letters included in the New Testament.  In his first letter, John warns his spiritual children of the dangers of Gnosticism:
Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us.  But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know.  I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth.  Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also.  Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.  And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.  I write this to you about those who would deceive you (1 John 2: 18–26).

 

In his second letter, John warns against not only listening to heretics, but even associating with them:

 

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.  Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward.  Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son.  If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work (2 John 7–11).

 

Doctrine is serious stuff, both for John and for the Church, even through today.  St. Irenaeus (one of the EarlyChurch’s foremost anti-Gnostics) tells how John encountered a notorious Gnostic in a public bathhouse in Ephesus, and “rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, ‘Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus [the heretic], the enemy of the truth, is within.’”  St. John’s disciple St. Polycarp had a similar encounter with the Gnostic Marcion, who saw the saint on the street.  One can imagine Polycarp giving Marcion the cold shoulder, perhaps rushing past him.  “Do you know me?” Marcion asked Polycarp.  Polycarp turned to the heretic, looked him in the eyes, and said, “I do know you; you are the first born of Satan.”

 

That’s what you call a Patristic BURN!

 

The Gnostics survived the Apostolic Age (which ended with the death of St. John around AD 100) by going underground.  They reappear throughout Church History.  Montanists in the 2nd and 3rd centuries followed Montanus, who claimed to receive direct guidance from the Holy Spirit, contradicting the Church’s official teaching.  Herein is the descendent of Gnosticism’s special secret knowledge.  St. Augustine (died 430) was a member of, and then later wrote against, the Manicheans, which were next generation Gnostics.  The Manicheans emphasized a dualism (two gods, one good and one evil) to explain morality: sins were when the bad god controlled you.  St. Dominic (d. 1221) dealt with the Cathars (also called the Albigensians), again, another incarnation of the Gnostic beliefs.  In these later incarnations of the heresy, especially the Albigensians, sexual immoralities were encouraged and ritualistic suicide became their greatest form of worship.  The body became either a dreaded evil, something that must be abandoned at all cost, or nothing of consequence, meaning one could do whatever he or she wanted with it.

 

Of course, the worst thing one could do was trap another soul in a body.  Hence the Albigensian sexual immoralities: anything was permissible, so long as it did not result in babies.

 

Sound familiar?

 

Strains of Gnosticism appear today.  Besides the Free Love anti-culture (which endorses neither true love nor true freedom) that dominates society, one sees a rash of suicides as people young and old seek to escape this life.  An anti-life mentality plagues society, and people at both ends of their lifespan face death at the hands of others who see their life as worthless; having babies is seen by some as foolish and irresponsible.  Several Protestant groups throughout the last 500 years (such as the Quakers and Pentecostals) claim continual revelation from God, a secret gnosis like that of the early Gnostics.  Joseph Smith, in 1820s, claimed a secret revelation from God, which would later form the Book of Mormon, and would lead to the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  In Catholic circles, one sees this same influence today in some branches of the charismatic movement (we’ll deal with the charismatic movement in a later blog post).

 

What then are we to make of the Gnostics?  They are an ancient enemy of the Faith, one of the oldest, and Gnosticism still remains alive today.  Few would find the original Gnostic beliefs appealing today, yet this heresy’s lasting impact on the Church shows that its legacy is far from over, and that the believing Christian should expect to face shades of Gnosticism in his or her life.  One must be prepared.

 

For further reading:

 

Edward Moore, “Gnosticism,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (July 2005), accessed October 29, 2012, available at http://www.iep.utm.edu/gnostic – Provides a very thorough summary of the basic beliefs of the pre-Christian Gnostics, as well as the incorporation of the Gnostic beliefs into the Christian Gnostic heresy.

 

John Arendzen, “Gnosticism,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 6 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909), accessed October 29, 2012, available at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06592a.htm. – Though written in the first decade of the 20th century, this article provides a full account of Christian Gnosticism in the EarlyChurch, including a discussion of anti-Gnostic writers, such as St. Irenaeus.

 

St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103.htm – One of the most complete attacks against Gnosticism in the EarlyChurch.  Includes much of what we know about the thought of the Gnostics.

 

 

 

 

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Reflection: What is/are apologetics?

A few years ago I received an email which had in it a Catholic IQ test.  I have search for this quiz for years, and have not yet found it.  Sorry for the bubble burst.  Anyway, one of the questions was “Apologetics means” and then there were four options.  I don’t even remember the wording of the right answer.  I just remember one of the wrong ones:

 

“Never having to say you’re sorry.”

 

It’s more true than one might think, but its still not quite right (and the Love Story reference is enough to make one squirm).  Apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing in the way we use the word in English.  When we apologize normally, we say we are sorry for some wrong done, and by doing so promise to correct what was wrong.  In Apologetics, however, your purpose isn’t to say you are sorry and admit you were wrong.  On the contrary, you are proclaiming that your belief is correct.  You are defending your beliefs and convictions.  You are fighting a battle, an intellectual, albeit, and you are not backing down, and you are certainly not saying sorry. 

 

When you think Apologetics, think of Plato’s The Apology.  In this dialogue, the great philosopher Socrates defends his philosophy before an Athenian court.  Socrates is not apologizing in the way we normally use the word.  He’s not saying sorry for having taught the existence of a spiritual world of Forms, or of the immortality of the soul (which he re-proclaims in this dialogue), but is rather presenting again his arguments.  He is defending his position.  He is Apologizing in the way we use the word here on this blog.  He is seeking to defend his position and by doing so bring his hearers over to his side. 

 

So it is with Christian Apologetics.  There is a long and glorious history of Christian apologists throughout the last two thousand years of Church history.  Jesus urged his followers not to give up hope in their beliefs, and to not worry what to say when questioned, that He would let them know what to say (Luke 21:13–15).  Likewise, St. Peter, the first pope, encouraged the faithful to “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).  Generations of Christians have done just that. 

 

St. Justin Martyr was one of the first, and perhaps most famous, early apologist.  He defended the Church’s teachings before two Roman Emperors (while, one should not, Christianity was still illegal) and in a dialogue with Trypho the Jew.  In both cases, Justin sought to defend the Faith in his writing; he is an apologist.  Many of the Fathers of the Church likewise wrote in defense of the Faith, especially during the 4th and 5th centuries, when heresies drove the Church to clarify her teachings about God, Christ, and grace.  Men like St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and St. Jerome all wrote tracts against certain errors of their day, presenting an apology, in the same way Socrates did, of the Christian Faith. 

 

The need for apologetics died down during the age of Christendom, the Middle Ages, as much of the known world shared the same beliefs.  There are some exceptions, of course.  St. Dominic formed the religious order that bears his name, the Dominicans, in response to a need for clear apologetics in the face of the Albigensian Heresy.  St. Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican, wrote a full summary of the Christian Faith in his Summa Theologica, which was set up in the popular scholastic style of the time.  It is a very effective method of arguing.  First the writer poses a question, the topic of the debate.  Then the dissenting position is given, complete with citations to support their arguments.  Then there is a quote from some authority which questions the dissenting positions.  Then the writer writes a summary of the proper answer to the question.  Finally, the speaker, point by point, responds to the dissenting opinions.  It is a very thorough process, one which remains effective especially in today’s intellectual dialogues. 

 

The Protestant Revolt (more popularly known as the Reformation) provided the opportunity for a new breed of apologists.  Every Protestant reformer, from Luther to Calvin to Zwingli, presented an apology for their writings, and each one had a counter argument from the Catholic Church.  Perhaps the most definite counter argument lies in the teachings of the Council of Trent, held in three sessions from 1545–1563.  As the age of revolutions swept throughout the world, men became less concerned with arguing over the Faith, more concerned with not loosing their heads (as many clerics did during the French Revolution).  Towards the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century, a new wave of apologist formed.  Based mainly in England, these men of orthodoxy, such as Chesterton, Belloc, Dawson, and Lewis, sought to defend Christianity first and foremost, for in that age of Modernism and anti-religious sentiments, basic tenants of the Christian Faith needed repeating. 

 

This push towards a re-Christianization of Europe came to a halt with the turmoil of the mid-20th century.  It was only towards the end of that century, in the late 1970s, 80s, and 90s, that the apology for Christianity continued again in earnest.  That led to a huge boom in apologetic literature, not just from Catholics but from all the various Christian denominations.  The Internet produced a huge wave of people expressing their ideas, no matter how outlandish, and there was soon another person with a counter argument. 

 

So is the field of apologetics today.  People turn to the internet more so than television, radio, and movies for their education.  So too they turn to answers concerning the Faith.  What does a priest or pastor know?  They’re paid to talk about God.  And soon the Internet becomes a counter-church, wherein the modern man offers himself in sacrifice to a digital deity, seeking scriptures more manufactured than the computer through which he searches.  How much wrong information lingers out there! 

 

An apologist on the Internet must be aware of such a situation.  He must be as informed as his audience as to the methods and sources of information now used.  Thick theological treatises will no longer satisfy the curious mind.  We no longer have the attention span to sit and read.  An apologist must therefore be brief and to the point.  It will be hard for me, since as you can tell, I’m pretty wordy, but I hope that my presentations will be both informative and inspiring.  Since one of the most crucial attributes of an apologist is his humility, one must be aware of one’s own limitations. 

 

The ultimate goal of the apologist is not to show off his knowledge about God.  It is to bring souls to the truth.  I do not hope to be the next great apologist; I just want the truth to be known, and known with open hearts, so that in knowing the truth, God might allow his graces to flow into each of your lives. 

 

God bless you all!

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