It is no secret that the twenty-first century has given rise to a new kind of Exodus: young people are leaving the Church at disheartening numbers. In this article, we’ll explore the history of Catholic apologetics, why apologetics is needed today, what could happen if Catholics do not take an apologetics approach to teaching, and more. Plus, download a free copy of our Prayer for Knowledge Prayer Card to use during your devotional time.
An ever-widening gap between faith and reason has led more and more Christian youth to either indifference about their faith or total rejection. A growing rise in doubt and atheism among Catholic children, teens, and young adults requires us to reflect on unanswered questions and adapt our religious instruction accordingly. Now more than ever, we need the principles of apologetics to facilitate conversations, safeguard believers, support Christ's teachings, and help us understand and address viewpoints that are different or contrary to Catholic Christianity.
What is Apologetics?
Stemming from the Greek word apologia, meaning “defense,” the term apologetics (fittingly) means the defense of faith. Apologetics helps others develop an intellectual and reasonable examination of the Gospel message. It is not merely an intellectual pursuit however; ultimately, the goal of apologetics is to strengthen the faith of all Christians and attract others to the gospel. For Catechists, the aim of Catholic apologetics is to shed light on difficult, controversial, or misunderstood concepts and, in doing so, help those who are struggling to see the Gospel for what it truly is: “good news.”
Download a Prayer for Knowledge Prayer Card and share it with students, parents, and educators in your religious education program.
History of Catholic Apologetics
From St. Augustine to C.S. Lewis, apologetics is an ancient tool that (despite being hotly debated throughout recent history) is abundantly useful in modern times. Apologetic teachings date back to 180 A.D. when St. Irenaeus penned Against Heresies*—a text that the Early Church Fathers, including St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ambrose of Milan, and St. Augustine, quoted frequently for hundreds of years. Writings on apologetics continued to appear throughout history, whenever there occurred a resurgence of heretical thought. In 430 A.D., St. Vincent of Lerins wrote Commonitorium, which focused on the need for the “Deposit of Faith” to remain intact throughout the centuries. More than a thousand years later, in 1562 A.D., St. Charles Borromeo also echoed St. Vincent of Lerins’s desire to safeguard the Deposit of Faith by taking steps to counter widespread heresy that resulted from the Protestant Reformation. He commissioned the Chair who wrote the Roman Catechism during the Council of Trent; this very Catechism is the fruit of the Church’s insistence to guard the Deposit of Faith throughout time and history. On and on throughout history, apologetics has been a vital tool for addressing heretical intellectual movements, fortifying the faith of believers, and convincing non-believers of Christianity’s validity.
Apologetics has not always had a sparkling reputation, however. Many people hear the term apologetics and feel wary or skeptical, and it is true that it has somewhat of a controversial past. Throughout the long history of apologetics, it has been used as a tool for both positive and destructive means. Unfortunately, because of this, there have been periods of time when the Church promoted evangelism over apologetics. While we cannot deny that apologetics has had a negative connotation in the past, it is important to take a new, modernized approach—one that allows for an intellectual defense of faith and honors the dignity of other beliefs and believers.
Since Apologetics is a tool for addressing heresy, which varies across historical and cultural contexts, it continues and will continue to evolve based on cultural needs. Once again, in our current time, we must return to this ancient teaching tool. With the growing rise in atheism, a renewed movement of apologetics is essential. We need to reflect on our current and past teaching practices and reorient our catechesis towards a more apologetic approach.
Why Catholic Apologetics is Needed Today
As it has been throughout history, apologetics is once again a critical tool for parents and catechists to adopt. Whether we like it or not, in order to turn the tide of unbelief amongst our Catholic youth, we must adapt our techniques to fit our current challenges.
It will not come as a surprise to most Catholic educators: there’s been a steep decline in religion among younger generations due to the presumed contradiction between faith and science. This perception has caused an ever-widening divide between what people see as logic/reason and faith.
- There is no such thing as a transcendent soul
Science has proven that God does not exist
- There is no proof that Jesus was more than a myth
- Widespread suffering proves an all-loving God does not exist
Catechesis is a powerful instrument for educating our youth, but alone, it is not enough. Apologetics is unique in that it allows educators to help young Catholics navigate difficult questions. In adopting logic and reason, apologetics prepares educators to respond to difficult questions and/or faith crises with clear arguments and sound evidence. An apologist (defender of the faith) educator shows students that reason reinforces faith, and science and religion can coexist harmoniously. Rather than shying away from the tough stuff, apologetics promotes dialogue and discussion of difficult topics. This open dialogue teaches students that, when they are struggling, they can turn to their faithful educators—their defenders of the faith—to get support, find evidence of Christian truths, and speak about their beliefs with confidence. Apologetics shows our students and children that they do not need to leave either the Gospel or reason behind to find answers. The study and instruction of apologetics not only helps students, but it also benefits the faith formation of parents and catechists. As educators work to acquire knowledge, evidence, and resources that will make them an apologist, they build and fortify their own faith.
Who Can Be Apologists Today?
Parents need to be apologists so they can raise kids with confident faith in a secular world
Parents need to acknowledge the world will challenge their children’s faith and (when that inevitably occurs), they must be equipped with the knowledge, evidence, and resources needed to answer their children’s questions
- Directors of Religious Education
- Youth Ministers
Parishes need to ensure apologetics is a vital part of its ministerial teaching
Parishes and ministries need to provide resources and educational opportunities for teachers and catechists, so they can learn how to be apologists themselves
They need to minister and help parents as parents learn and use apologetic teachings with their children
They can encourage dialogue about apologetic topics
What Happens if Catholics Do Not Take an Apologetics Approach to Teaching?
It is easy to brush off the importance of apologetics as just another tool in the parent and religious educator’s toolbelt. But, as history has shown us, apologetics is unique, and it is useful. If we do not utilize the teachings of apologetics to counter the challenges of our modern-day faith crisis, there could be dire consequences for our children. The harsh reality is that when your children or students have a faith crisis, they are going to come to you with difficult, uncomfortable questions. If these children, teens, and young adults do not have support systems in place to help them navigate these faith crises and do not have anyone to respond to their questions with evidence, their belief in God will not last in a secular world.
If teachers are unprepared to help kids get over the hump of doubts it will be a hindrance to passing on the Deposit of Faith. The Christian Church will continue and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; we can be assured; it is just a matter of whether we do our job in passing on the Deposit of Faith. The ultimate result is pretty bleak: parents will see their children leave the faith, we will have an eventual decay in Christian beliefs, and there will be a subsequent dechristianization of society.
History has given us a unique tool for dealing with widespread critical thinking: apologetics. In order to help address our children and students’ crises of faith and halt the growing trend of religious indifference and atheism, it is vital we adapt our strategies to fit the needs of the current generation. Apologetics allows educators and parents to run towards reason as a way to explain, provide evidence, and bolster Christian faith rather than run away from it. A firm grasp of apologetics allows us to help fortify our youth to contend with the inevitable storms of doubt and self-examination that come with growing up in a widely secular society. The goal is not for young Christians to simply get through their social/emotional development unscathed by avoiding conversational learning which forces them to think deeply about their beliefs. Instead, with apologetics, the act of examining their own beliefs through critical analysis and discourse with others will strengthen their faith more than anything else.
By reading this article, we hope you learned a little bit about contemporary Catholic apologetics, why apologetics is needed today, and the consequences of not adopting apologetics to counter today’s challenges. St. Paul said Timothy, “Guard the Deposit!” Let us continue to guard it today. Do not forget to download a free copy of our Prayer for Knowledge Prayer Card to use during your devotional time.