Catholic Apologetics



Apologetics as scholarly apostolate

We can't deny that even people outside the relatively small circle of professional theologians have been granting scholarly apologetics a special attention since about the middle of the nineteenth century. Here we have to distinguish apologetics from the apology, which is a kind of theological polemics and thus much less positive and systematical. The interest in apologetics exists, not in the last place, with the searchers among our intellectuals and with them who have to guide these searchers: the spiritual advisers and the lay apostles.
There was every reason for this interest!
Religious rationalism, a poor remainder of what once had been believing Christianity, was soon committing suicide, especially in the countries where Enlightenment had almost completely swept away the mystery of revealed religion. The inheritance was very sad. Many people called themselves bon vivants and were living the senseless life of an indifferentist or a conscious atheist. Others, fortunately the greater mass of the people, asked for more certainty than they could procure themselves, and called for help from above to lighten their own burdens.
Therefore, it was fully understandable that apologetical workers like cardinal Deschamps and so many others, in aid of the people whose spirits were worrying and whose intellects were desperate, searched for a variant of scholarly apologetics that could immediately and directly replenish the most serious deficiencies. These apologists were zealous and energetic to promote the Catholic cause, so they may have been willing to persuade the people that it was not seeking at the instance of its own will, but by the grace of a vocation by God. Meanwhile, they may have disregarded the Revelation outside man himself - in Christ. However, although their view on the task of Apologetics may have been one-sided, we can't deny them the credit for one important merit: unlike a centuries old race of handbook writers who apparently found a carefully elaborated theory of the truth of Christianity more interesting than the very practice of Catholic life, they asked the people's full attention for the importance and necessity of what will always be the main task and the highest mission of Apologetics: the apostolate among them who didn't find holy faith yet, or fell a prey to the miserable catastrophe of losing it.
For the Catholic, holy faith or belief is in the first place, if not exclusively, a gift of grace from God intended for the intellect; it is first of all an intellectual property. Although we can and must admit without any difficulty that faith will only attain its rich growth and full bloom in a supernatural life of virtue, we also have to admit that our very reason is responsible for an act like believing, and indeed for any worthy and meritorious human act. This is even true if we consider our believing in relation with grace. Our belief is, in the good sense of the word, a rationabile obsequium - a reasonable belief.
God wished to bestow belief on us as a supernatural gift of love and grace, which is primarily a benefit for the intellect. Because belief reveals something, it speaks to us, it teaches us godly truths we don't know yet.
On the level of human knowledge and will, grace can effect miracles of a moral character. God can move and lead both our intellect and our will without preparing them in any natural sense, as He thinks fit. He may use His power to convert the most convinced atheist to a willing acceptance of faith, without the cooperation of natural factors. Likewise, he may surprise the most obstinate sinner with His love, and make him suddenly see the error of his ways.
But the ordinary course in the existing order of Salvation is such that the supernatural presupposes a regulated nature, and a preparing grace precedes justification.
God pours belief and sanctifying grace into man at the same time, and the object of belief is revealed truth. However, sanctifying grace is not a miracle in the strict sense of the word. Revelation doesn't fall down from heaven like a meteor. And belief is something quite different from a sudden insight in truths and values that don't find any point of contact in nature.
God prepares everything. Disponit omnia suaviter - He arranges everything in a gentle way. He mildly leads both humanity as a whole and every man personally. He orders human nature and prepares it for the coming of His grace. This grace doesn't affect the essence of nature. It even ennobles nature. Thus, it is erroreous to think God takes away natural freedom from the person He elects for supernatural life. Contrarily, God makes such a person even more free, by broadening and sharpening his knowledge of truth.
The grace of belief, too, presupposes in man a natural predisposition, a natural willingness. This is not yet an acceptance of faith, because the faithful doesn't say his credo for some natural reason, but for a supernatural motive which he receives as a personal gift from God, together with the grace of belief itself.
The predisposition is a natural susceptibility of human mind, which doesn't oppose a closer intimacy with God's Spirit, and looks eagerly forward to the undeserved luxury of being God's child. This natural receptivity before things of God largely comes about by the cooperation of natural causes, although we might call it a grace already, because it prepares human mind, under the influence of God, for the much larger grace of holy faith.
Nature and grace work together. Grace helps nature, and nature supports grace.
Just as bad surroundings cause the ruin of the happiness of many, both in this life and in the other, since lower passions are dominating higher feelings and evil will is intoxicating senses, so can whole and sound surroundings often be a first occasion for people with spiritual worries to search for lost happiness and to recover it. Power, riches and sensual pleasure can make man insensible to the real values of faith and religion; but poverty, humiliation and physical suffering can give a troubled person the understanding that this world and this life are too small for the full joys of paradise. A difficult life gives us a splendid chance to make all things partial and passing subservient to the undivided and everlasting happiness in God. Man is only in a very restricted sense his own lord and master. Human freedom doesn't prevent that it lets many external factors influence it. Whoever is weak may recover his former strength by the cooperation of salutary circumstances, and whoever is strong may become even stronger by the dispensations of life.
So there is a natural apostolate of surroundings and sufferings, just as there is a supernatural apostolate of prayer and sacrifice.
Apostolate is, in all its forms, a preparing grace of God; it tries to make man better as a man, incites him to do what lies within his power, and calls for the coming or increase of sanctifying grace. "God will not withhold grace from them who do whatever they can", says Saint Thomas Aquinas, and the angelic doctor has found this to his own cost, if we are allowed to put it this way.

There is also an apostolate of scholarship.
Every deed which is morally good and which a man does consciously, already asks for a reasonable justification. So much the more, a reasonable justification is required for the acceptance of belief, because this acceptance determines the attitude to life of the person involved, and directs and regulates his life for a supernatural destination which doesn't lie open to natural experience.
The faithful believes he knows that destination. His religious practice of life is a conscious striving after this destination.
But could a faithful ever plead his principal attitude with himself and the outsider, and represent it as something attractive, if he could only appeal to the inward dictate of God's Spirit, and found no natural arguments disposable to persuade with?
Don't misunderstand this.
Belief is a generous gift of love from God, and natural reason can't reveal the truths of faith. God works in people as the cause of belief. He comes to the aid of human intellect in a supernatural way and makes the acceptance of belief possible. He makes himself known to us, not only through the external Revelation in history, but also through the inward Revelation in our intellect: "For it's not flesh and blood which revealed you this, but my Father in heaven".
We can't ever grow belief in a natural way. No psychologist or ethnologist or physicist or philosopher is able to come to the acceptance of faith under his own power. Belief is a grace, and grace is a generous gift of love from God. Belief and grace lie beyond the powers of human nature, and thus also beyond the powers of human reason.
But natural reason of man is able to show the natural credibility of the datum of Revelation and, thus, to safeguard the reasonableness of belief against all possible natural objections. It does so by disclosing the natural truths which belief is presupposing, and by arranging them with a view to the credibility of the datum of belief.
Now which are these natural truths?
Saint Thomas enumerates some of them in an elementary recapitulation, saying natural reason has to accomplish a preparing task regarding holy belief and to form a clear idea about "those things which can be determined by natural reasoning, like: the fact that God exists and is one and undivided, and similar truths relating both to God and to creation, which philosophy demonstrates and belief is presupposing".
We can hardly call this summary complete. If the doctor angelicus wouldn't have informed us better about his view on the apostolical function of scholarship, we would have been almost entirely dependent on guessing to know his intentions.
However, the man from Aquino has fully elaborated this short scheme for scholarly apologetics later on, and he has given us in his Summa contra Gentiles an apologetical guide which we can freely call exemplary and a standard for all Catholics who wish to justify their holy faith on a scholarly basis for themselves and for others.
Meant as a Catholic defence against non-Catholics, especially against the dissentient opinions of Jews and Mohammedans, this standard work gives in its first three Books an almost complete synthesis of all natural truths which are able to propitiate human mind before the supernatural mysteries of Christianity, which, both in its dogmas and in its code of morality, turns out to advocate a much more consistent and hence a much more acceptable attitude to life than paganism, in whatever theoretical or practical form we consider it.
Saint Thomas probably didn't entertain illusions about a near conversion of the Jewish and Mohammedan philosophers and theologians he fought against. He knew, better than anyone else, that faith is a grace. However, when he wrote his apologetical Summa, he certainly intended to open both the eyes of the less convinced among his fellow Christians and the eyes of his adversaries for the acceptability, beauty and attractiveness of Catholic religion.
And that's a form of apostolate, too.

Apologetics as a theological function

Systematical Apologetics is not only a precious means in the hand of an apostle working for the propagation of holy faith, but it is also valuable for the theologian. We can even say it is an essential part and the very first function of theological scholarship, which could hardly compete with the other branches of learning without a rational defence of its first principles.
Scholarship, like science, is a system of proved conclusions. The rightness of the conclusions is dependent on the correctness of reasoning. Yet it's not only logical deduction that determines the value of the conclusions. The value of the conclusions leans primarily on the solidity of the principles from which they were deduced.
Holy theology is the branch of learning which rests on principles which are not obvious, but revealed to us by God: the data of faith. It is also a branch of science, because it brings to light new truths from unshakable principles in accordance with universal laws of thought. However, the unshakability of its principles is not something evident; it has to be proved. The theologian as a scholar has to be able to render an account of the reasonableness of his fundamental attitude, just like any other scholar or scientist.
The theologian doesn't confine himself to making an appeal to his personal opinion. Others might give credence to this opinion, but this doesn't secure the justification of the principles. Indeed, credit to the word of a man is a human belief, and this belief doesn't offer a sufficient guarantee for the reliability of the constructions of thought built on it.
The acceptability of philosophy, too, rests, first of all, on the acceptability of its principles. Now the principles of philosophy are evident. Likewise, musical science can justify and maintain itself as a science, because it can convincingly refer to the laws of arithmetic that are its first principles.
But what about the sacred science of holy Theology?
It is in a very exceptional position.
Because its certainty finally comes from the veracity of God; it doesn't follow from a natural evidence of its first principles. Such a natural evidence doesn't exist. Because the data of faith teach us truths unseen and invisible, which don't lie open before natural intellect. Fides non apparentium - things non-evident form the object of holy belief.
However, this doesn't release the theologist as a scholar from the task of justifying his principles before the forum of natural reason. He has to demonstrate the reasonable acceptibility of these principles. If he wouldn't do that, people could justly call his scholarship a fictive and untrue system of thought. The unshockability of the theological foundations has to be made acceptable on natural foundations.
Which are these natural foundations?
The motive of faith can hardly be decisive. It has a supernatural character. It is included in the very grace of belief. So it is only acceptible as a foundation to those intellects which God's justification has already raised to the higher rank of supernatural life. Although the theologist as a faithful may be very sure about the truth of the principles he avows in faith, he will still be unable to persuade natural man by his own faith alone as to the scientific character of holy Theology.
But this doesn't mean that the act of intellectual trust to revealed truths and to the mysterious words of God is a leap into the dark. We might call it a leap into the unseen, because the believer ventures to go into a world of things he doesn't see. However, it's not at all a reckless leap or a foolhardiness. Because there is a strong hand which lifts up the faithful and guards him from blind danger. The hand of God safely bears man through Revelation in this life to eternal Revelation in future.
And here lies the very strength of the natural plea which the student of holy Theology can make for the fundamental truth and certainty of his scholarship.
To defend its principles, theology gives a systematical exposition of the motives of credibility it can import from the schools of philosophy and history. It points to the fact that God, whom we are seeking and whom we have to serve to the best of our ability, does exist. It ascertains God is infinitely truthful and can't mislead or deceive. It demonstrates that the impressive organisation of the Catholic Church glories in its godly origin. It proves this Church has a right to speak, because God's own Revelation has spoken clearly in history. So this establishes the irrefutable fact that faith and the practice of life based on it are reasonably justified in the Catholic Church.

The object of Apologetics

Apparently, it's not difficult to see that Apologetics, whether understood as scholarly apostolate or as first function of holy Theology, is aiming in the end at one primary purpose only: the natural credibility of the datum of Revelation, as we profess and experience it in Catholic religion. When a apostolical worker attains that purpose, then he has done for the propagation of faith all he could in a scientific way; when a theologist attains it, he has sufficiently answered before natural reason for the fundamental certainty and the scientific character of sacred scholarship.
So we could describe Apologetics or the systematical defence of faith as: the scholarly explanation of the truths we know from nature which are pleading for the credibility of the datum of Revelation we profess and experience in Catholic religion.
Of course, Apologetics has many means available to attain its purpose. It reflects on the things we know from nature which are related to God and allow some insight in the power and truth of the Creator, whose power and truth apparently are not essentially tied to the normal course of events we can experience in nature.
But is there any thing which is not related to God?
After all, human mind can find in every truth the mark which shows its godly origin. Because every thing has God as its first Cause and last End. Although only the personal word of God does reveal the deeper sense of the cycle of all things created, yet natural revelation is already offering to the serious searchers a sufficient guarantee for the noble origin and exalted destination of the whole universe and all it contains. Each thing is pointing at God as its intelligent Maker, and each truth eventually has an apologetical meaning. Heaven and earth are praising the Creator, whose wisdom is inexhaustible. "How majestic your works are, o Jahveh: You have made them all with wisdom" (psalm 104).
However, although the apologist may use the data and outcomes of all sciences for his purpose, yet for him holds, perhaps more than for the student of any other science or scholarship, the warning word that moderation makes the master.
We can't put Apologetics on a par with the encyclopedia of sciences.
Apologetics forms a connected and complete whole and has a clear-cut purpose. It takes the natural truths in a well-defined direction, because it wants to provide the natural preparation which is is needed, at least in adults, for the supernatural acceptance of faith. Therefore, it must have its own characteristic program. As a scholarship, it has a strictly synthetical character, because it consciously arranges all available and useful data according to its immediate purpose: the reasonable acceptance of the principles which underlie Catholic attitude to life.

"Whoever is wise, regulates", says Saint Thomas, when he explains his plans for scholarly Apologetics in the introduction to his apologetical Summa. He considers it both evident and necessary that whoever wants to be really wise, has to regulate all his knowledge of truth and all his practice of life in accordance with the prima Veritas - the first Truth, which is God Himself.
The wise man considers and regulates everything in connection with the purpose he sets before himself. So, wisest is he who can look farthest ahead, who always keeps the final end before his eyes, and arranges everything in accordance with it. The final end of all things is the plan the first Cause has made for them. Therefore, whoever is really wise, will take this plan as the object of all his considerations, and appreciate and regulate all other things in accordance with it. (chapter 1)
"So we draw confidence from divine mercy to give ourselves to the task of a wise man, although this job is above us, and we purpose to clarify, to the best of our ability, the truth professed by Catholic faith, by refusing the opposite errors." (chapter 2)
We can distinguish the divine truths we profess in our faith under two main parts: the supernatural truths which are above human reason, and the natural truths we can prove by using our natural reason. (chapter 3)
If somebody asks why the truths we can know in a natural way have been communicated to us by supernatural Revelation, we answer that most people stay devoid of necessary knowledge about God, unless God himself teaches them. Because, in the first place, many people lack the natural talents to successfully apply to the laborious study of natural theology. In the second place, the personal circumstances of life are often such that people can't find the time and occasion they need for a deeper contemplation of the things of God. Finally, many people shrink from the great effort they would have to do for it. (chapter 4)
God calls us for a higher and more attractive happiness than we can attain in this life. So it's both necessary and useful that we are able to rise above the passing and partial truths of present life. That's the reason why belief gives us knowledge about the truths that are not accessible to natural reason. (chapter 5)
When we give up our intellect to the supernatural truths God revealed to us, then we aren't parroting any "cunningly fabricated fairy tales" (II Petrus I, 16).
God himself, who is the highest Truth and knows everything as it is, has communicated these truths to us. And to convince us it's He who is holding these truths before us, he has performed miracles without number. (chapter 6)
Because all truths ultimately turn out to originate from divine Truth itself, which is one and indivisible, no supernatural truth can ever contradict any natural truth. (chapter 7)
Belief is a grace. Nobody can arrive at the acceptance of belief through natural reasoning alone. Yet it's good to reflect on the presuppositions of belief and to acquire a deep knowledge of it, because, although this knowledge may be very imperfect by its very nature, yet it already gives a bit of a foretaste of the happiness which the perfect knowledge of things divine will bring with it at the end of time. (chapter 8)
"So we purpose to investigate with our intellect the truths about God which human reason is able to track. The first consideration then is about the things which are divine by Gods own nature, the second about the fact that all creatures originate from Him, and the third about the fact that all things are directed to Him as their final End." (chapter 9)

In this way, Thomas has given a sufficiently clear description of the purpose and the object of scholarly Apologetics, as he saw it.
Is this the one and only right scheme? Can't we deviate from it without running the risk of dashing past our object or attaining only half of it?
Certainly not!
However, it appears to us that many hand books about Apologetics would possess a greater cogency and a stronger structure if they would pay attention not only to the rather superfluous reflections upon the ideal natural religion and to the comparative considerations about the distinct existing religions, but also to the beautiful circulation theory which the angelic teacher elaborated so convincingly and with so much mastery, but which almost all apologists completely neglected afterwards, as if by agreement.
In any case, Apologetics is not an accumulation of all possible natural things worth knowing.
"Whoever is wise, regulates."
This implies that we don't forget the things necessary, and omit the things superfluous.
A.Gardeil O.P. applied, not without a good reason, to the scholarship of systematical Apologetics the words of the Apostle: "All things are permissible for me! But not all things are expedient! All things are permissible for me! But I will not be brought under the power of any!" (I Cor. VI, 12)
All things are permissible for me! - En vertu de l'universalité de son objet formel, tout ce qui peut conduire à la preuve du témoignage divin, d'où résulte immédiatement la crédibilité du dogme, relève de l'Apologétique. Cela justifie, du coup, les moeurs annexionistes et encyclopédistes que nous lui avons reconnues."
But not all things are expedient! - L'apologète doit faire un choix parmi ces matériaux amoncelés. Tout ce qui ne conduit pas directement ou indirectement à l'établissement du fait du témoignage divin doit être impitoyablement éliminé, comme hors-d'oeuvre et surcharge inutile, quelle qu'en soit d'ailleurs la valeur en soi."
All things are permissible for me! - Les sciences rationelles et morales, l'histoire, la philosophie, l'exégèse, la sociologie, etc., toutes les connaissances humaines en un mot, sont tributaires de l'Apologétique, du moment qu'elles peuvent servir à établir la crédabilité."
But I will not be brought under the power of any! - Si toutes les connaissances humaines sont tributaires de l'Apologétique, c'est à la condition que l'apologète les utilisera comme des instruments en vue de son but, et qu'il ne laissera pas se substituer à l'intention apologétique la curiosité scientifique qui finirait par l'envahir et la dominer."
Now didn't Saint Thomas acquit himself of this rightful duty in an exemplary way?

The apologetical question

Apologetics is rejoycing in a very time-honoured tradition. Apostle Paul already speaks of the reasonable worship, and he refers to the greatest miracle of all times, the resurrection of the Lord, to prove it's as sensible for his audience to believe in the doctrine of revelation as it's necessary for himself to preach the word of God to others. "If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is idle, and idle is also your faith." (I Cor. XV, 13)
In their anti-heretical writings, to demonstrate the credibility of Christian doctrine, the oldest apologists referred to the recent history of Jesus' miraculous life, which wasn't only the life of a man, but the life of a God-man. If Jesus could be so awe-inspiring in his deeds, his teaching was bound to command respect as well. "Dominus dixit" - "The Lord said so". That was the sharpest weapon the first apologists could wield against the first teachers of a false doctrine. In the first struggle for Christian dogma and practice of life, the verifiable history of Jesus' life and the divine character of his mission were bound to be decisive.
What these apologists considered as the strongest plea for the rightness of Christian doctrine about faith and morals, stayed the leading idea of Apologetics during the whole patristic era. Clemens of Alexandria, Origenes, Cyrillus of Jerusalem, Cyrillus of Alexandria and Augustinus have continued the existing tradition and done pioneering work for scholarly defence of belief, finding its most important strength in miracle, which, as the fulfilment of an Old-Testament prophecy or as the immediate intervention of God in the normal course of events in nature, clearly demonstrates the divine mission of Jesus, who is the Founder of the Church.
The Fathers wanted in the first place to show that the Church has a right to say it has a divine origin. Therefore, they had a special liking for pointing at the miracles which Jesus did to affirm his divine mission, and at the old prophecies that found a miraculous fulfilment in Him.
Yet it wasn't only the miraculous life of the Founder of the Church that certified the divine character of youthful Christianity in the conviction of the Fathers. Many eastern Fathers, like Clemens of Alexandria, Origenes and Eusebius, thought the Church itself also revealed its divine vocation. Indeed, they reasoned that, among all existing religions, only Christianity can refer to the characteristic signs of a wonderful vitality, an unusually strong propagation, an exceptional sanctity, and an unbelievable readiness to make sacrifices.
Many people found a third argument for the reasonableness of the Christian religion in the wonderful circumstance that dogma and morality of the Church agreed so fortunately with the better longings of human spirit. It were especially the philosophers among the Fathers who followed Tertullianus (anima naturaliter christiana - the soul is naturally Christian) and Justinus to lay the natural curiosity and the essential insufficiency of man at the foundation of a demonstration that leaded to the full acceptibility of Christian doctrine.
These three distinct demonstrations, which need not be inimical to each other, first concerning the historical miracle of Jesus, second concerning the permanent miracle which is the Church itself, and third concerning the insufficiency of human nature, have evolved in the course of time, together with the development of philosophical and theological thinking, into three more or less independent apologetical methods, which we can nowadays distinguish the more accurate as the fight for Apologetics we witnessed during the last half century placed the mutual contrasts in a sharper light opposite to each other.
We should seek the cause of this discord in the divergence of the remote purposes which the distinct apologists pictured to themselves, rather than in a different opinion about the primary purpose of Apologetics. We can say that the apologists among the theologians, who were mainly interested in justifying the theological principles, mostly preferred the traditional defence of faith, which relies on the fact of Revelation, whilst the men of practice, who considered Apologetics in the first place as scholarly mission work, mostly followed the shorter road, and made a choice, each according to his own taste and philosophical attitude, between, on the one side, the Catholic Church as a permanent miracle, and on the other side, the natural longing of man for a superhuman rapprochement of God.


The traditional method thanks its name to the circumstance that it kept defending its rights from the apostolical era through all flowering periods of holy Theology till now, and never fully capitulated to any other method.
Its purpose has primarily a scholarly character. It wants to plead the truth of the theological principle in the first place, and, thus, the very scholarship of the whole theological system, although it never forgets that knowledge about the deepest and most important truths is very attractive for us. Saint Thomas says: "No study is more enjoyable than the study of the highest wisdom, because associating with it has never something bitter or sorrowful, but gives always joy and happiness".
The traditional or indirect method begins with the natural proofs for the existence of God.
"Among the truths we have to consider about God himself, the first one is the treatise which proves God exists, as a necessary foundation for the entire job. Without it, the intended consideration of things divine would of course be impossible."
Subsequently, after proving that divine Revelation is possible and desirable, Thomas ascertains, following the usual procedure of the hand books, referring to the Gospels as historical documents, that God did indeed reveal himself to man in history, in the person of the Saviour, who confirmed his divine mission by prophecies and miracles without number. From this it follows that the Church he founded and the doctrine he brought to us originate in the will of God.
Thereafter, the Catholic apologist demonstrates against the claims other religious communities are laying on divine foundation, that only his own Church can be the one God wished. Because only his own Church can refer to the distinctives everyone can see: unity, sanctity, catholicity and apostolicity. Therefore, only Catholic doctrine can be the true doctrine, and Catholic dogma must be credible on the strength of divine veracity which speaks in it.
The indirect apologetical method, which demonstrates the credibility of Catholic dogma and the rightfulness of Catholic theology via the historical fact of divine Revelation, developed only in the last centuries to the systematic defence of faith we have now. Saint Thomas Aquinas, for example, maintained a more lenient scheme. For instance, he never wrote a separate treatise about the historical fact of Revelation. And his most important followers didn't do that, either. But they knew the leading idea of the indirect method, and, thus, they sanctioned it with their authority. Because, in imitation of the Summa contra Gentiles, all later guide books of Catholic defence of faith which representatives of the School have been writing in due course of time, strongly emphasized the apologetical meaning of the prophecies that were fulfilled in Christ and of the miracles He did to affirm his divine mission.
At the Vatican Council, the Church has spoken in favour of indirect Apologetics when it declared:
"In order to make the worship of our faith agree with reason, God wished to link to the inner assistance of the holy Spirit the external testimonies for his Revelation, among which in the first place the miracles and prophecies that speak to the intellect of man and form the most certain signs of divine Revelation, because they bring the omnipotence and the unrestricted wisdom of God into the light. That's why Moses and the Prophets, but above all Christ the Lord himself, have done many significant miracles and prophecies."


Catholics hardly doubt the scholarship of the traditional method. We readily acknowledge we should call its argumentation sufficient for the credibility of dogma and the truth of Catholic religion.
However, is this method perhaps too scholarly? Is its adjustment too one-sided, only aiming at the rational foundation of sacred scholarship? Does it take sufficient account of the practice of life? Could it be too digressive and too laborious to make us expect it's fertile for the practice of spiritual care?
After all, Apologetics has a higher vocation than being only a scholarship preparing for belief. It can and must be an apostolate in the full sense of the word; it can and must be, next prayer and good example, the pre-eminent tool in the hands of the apostle to win the unbelievers for true happiness.
Pascal had a good apprehension of this problem, when he wrote:
"Les hommes ont mépris pour la religion; ils en ont haine et peur qu'elle soit vraie. Pour guérir cela, il faut commencer par montrer que la religion n'est point contraire à la raison; vénérable, en donner respect; la rendre ensuite aimable, faire souhaiter aux bons qu'elle fût vraie; et puis montrer qu'elle est vraie. - Vénérable, parce qu'elle a bien connu l'homme; aimable parce qu'elle promet le vrai bien."
Pascal was not the only one who stood up for the rights of a simpler and more efficient Apologetics, which should reckon with the circumstances of place and time. Long before him , people already made frequent and many-sided efforts to find for the practical apostle a less cumbersome method, which should speak more immediately and directly to the religious needs of the great mass of the people. Several greek Fathers, Saint Augustine - "Our heart is restless until it finds rest in You" - Boethius, the Victorines, and in general all famous representatives of augustine tradition, already took the concrete needs of man as starting point for an apologetical disquisition that would lead to the conclusion that revealed religion is true. But there never came an independent method next the traditional one. Direct Apologetics was as yet a useful supplement, not an indispensable substitute. The méthode du pari en l'ordre du coeur of Pascal couldn't replace the indirect defence of faith, either.
The prelate of Mechelen, cardinal Dechamps, was the real founder of the direct method - méthode de la Providence. He explained to the seekers of truth and happiness how divine providence, by founding the Catholic Church with its impressive organisation, its noble doctrine of faith and morals, its striking sanctity and rich liturgy, met in a wonderful way the best desires and deepest needs that man carries along.
According to Dechamps, we don't need to cover the long distance to and fro the historical fact of Revelation to demonstrate the reasonableness of Catholic doctrine and religion. The Church speaks for itself. It does so always and everywhere. The simplest worker is able, as much as the smartest intellectual, to conclude from the wonderful fenomenon of the Catholic Church that only Catholic religion gives the fully satisfying and hence only possible answer for the religious demands that intrude upon man, at least in his better moments.
Is this method complete? And does it demonstrate that the Catholic Church is a supernatural institution?
These questions may seem less important for practical apostolate, but they are critical in regard to the independence of the direct method, which, according to many people, leaves in many aspects much to be desired.
Anyway, Dechamps and others after him have called attention to the great significance of the ensign for the nations. This ensign apparently had been completely expelled from the apologetical hand books, until the Vatican Council represented it again to the Catholic theologians and spiritual advisers.
"By its miraculous spread, its exceptional sanctity and its inexhaustible fertility in all things good, on the strength of its Catholic unity and unshakable steadfastness, the Church is in itself a strong and permanent motive of credibility and an imperative witness for its divine mission. Hence, as an ensign for the nations (Isaiah XI, 12), it calls all people who have not yet arrived at faith, and gives all its children the certainty that the faith they confess is resting on the firmest possible foundation."


We can say that the method of cardinal Dechamps was born out of the need of the time. The same holds, even more so, for the method of immanence - l'apologétique de l'action, l'apologétique du seuil - , which in the last decennia of the nineteenth century set itself the task to independently settle accounts with selfsufficient and shortsighted scientism, because the traditional method failed almost completely to do so.
The spiritual fathers of the method of immanence, let us call them immanentists, engage with heart and soul in the renewal of contemporary philosophy, but their strong Catholic zeal brings them every now and then in a domain that's not their own.
They are new and convinced representatives of the great way of thought of Saint Augustine, Saint Bernard, Pascal and Gratry. We readily forgive their initial exaggerations, because their good intentions and scholarly merits are beyond any doubt.
The immanentists don't consider Apologetics a separate "subject". They think it's philosophy in the true sense of the word. Because true philosophy, deserving its name, is no abstraction, no intellectual imagination of reality outside us, but, first of all, the immanent perception and deductive elaboration of the character and sense of reality in ourselves. This reality sufficiently reveals itself in the action, which is the whole of our spontaneous and reflexive, animal and intellectual, internal and external acts, and strives after a higher ideal again and again, through all temporary successes and local failures. Philosophy has to reckon with all factors that stimulate or restrict human acts. It cannot, in shortsighted conceit, call itself the wisdom of the world, but has to rise outside and above the narrow bounds of the cosmos. Action does the same. It cannot attain to full bloom in this world and in this life, and turns out to essentially strive for an au-delà, which, if it exists, can come about by a free and benevolent will of God only. Therefore it's foolish not to believe in things supernatural, and to refuse to step across the threshold of the temple which is the Catholic sanctum.
After the initial drive, the immanentists have become more mature. They quietly reflect on the most important problems of life. Even Maurice Blondel acknowledges the value of the traditional method, although he wants to see it more adapted to the religious needs of contemporary educated people:
"Pour beaucoup de nos contemporains cultivés, il était désirable de ne point recourir exclusivement à des preuvers extrinsèques, qui laisseraient croire que l'ordre surnaturel est une superstructure, en quelque sort postiche et accidentelle, sans relation profonde avec les besoins vitaux et les déficiences mêmes des intelligences, des volontés, des coeurs humains. Il devenait donc bienfaisant, urgent même, - sans mésestimer, tant s'en faut, les données historiques qui confirment la révélation, et sans négliger aucunement les fondements métaphysiques qui constituent d'indispensables praeambula fidei - de manifester aussi les attaches ou les attentes préparées par la Providence au fond des âmes et du composé humain."
The methods of providence and immanence have much in common. But there is also an important difference. Dechamps didn't push the philosophical analysis of human insufficiency so far that he thought he could conclude that things supernatural are possible. The immanentists do. Their Apologetics doesn't lead us to the revealed secrets of Christianity, but it intends to demonstrate that a supernatural perfection of human action must be possible.
Now didn't Saint Thomas Aquinas teach the same in his apologetical Summa?

{{It is difficult to form a clear idea of any systematical defence of faith among our Protestant fellow Christians.
Ever since the rise of Reformation, the Protestant scholarship of faith always considered it one of its most important missions to defend itself against external attacks. It defended itself not only from the standpoint of faith, which they could suppose was present with non-reformed Christianity, but it also wished to justify itself before the non-believers.
But Historical Apologetics, which mainly ran parallel with fundamental Catholic theology, was forced, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, especially by the fierce criticism of Schleiermacher, to stand aside for Philosophical Theology, which we immediately could predict was not able to maintain itself without sacrificing theology to philosophy.
When philosophical theology - "welche den Absolutheitsanspruch des Christentums preisgibt" (Von Frank) - began, in due course of time, exhibiting too rationalistic inclinations, it was almost entirely pushed aside by the more individualistic method of Religious Experience and the method of Ethical Psychology. However, Protestant Apologetics couldn't defend its rights under these forms, either. Julius Kaftan's Philosophie des Protestantismus and Emil Brunner's Theologische Eristik were new endeavours to save systematical defence of faith for the Protestants. But these apparently are bound to die an inglorious death, too. They aren't much more than weak attempts, and they are already more often attacked than defended.
In Protestant circles, there is an ever growing conviction that Apologetics, which begins with the natural proofs for the existence of God, and ends with the natural credibility of the datum of Revelation, has to be called superfluous, at least from the standpoint of faith. They put it on a par with a motion of no-confidence against the certainty with which God reveals himself to the faithful.
Anyway, the Protestant has a quite different opinion about the purpose and significance of Apologetics than the Catholic. What Bavinck wrote about the task of scholarly defence of faith, is diametrically opposed to the opinion of Saint Thomas:
"Apologetics can't precede faith, and it doesn't try to demonstrate the truth of Revelation beforehand. It presupposes truth and the faith in truth; it doesn't go before theology and dogmatics as an introductory part, as a principal or fundamental scholarship, but is a thoroughly theological scholarship itself, which presupposes faith and dogmatics and maintains dogma against the attacks it experiences."
So, the reformed dogmatist equates Apologetics to polemical dogmatics, which we use to call Apology.
From the viewpoint of his faith, it is quite appropriate to do so!
Because Protestant scholarship of faith has shown from the beginning a radical dislike of the natural Theology of scholasticism. Protestantism is essentially anti-intellectualistic. It has to be so, because the faith Protestant theology is resting on and starting from, is much less an intellectual knowledge than an act of trust or inner religious experience. Protestants are convinced that Catholic conception of belief is too intellectual and rationalistic.
It's rather clear that, the more we expel the intellectual element from faith, the more Apologetics is bound to lose strength as a preparing function of holy Theology.
It's not only a question of method.
For Apologetics, its very right to exist is at stake.
And it seems the question of natural defence of faith, which dogmatics presupposes, will stay vexed in Protestant circles forever.}}