So You Wanna Be a Catholic Apologist?

At some point or another, most Catholics will end up having to defend their Faith against someone else, whether it’s in person or on the internet.  I remember the days of high school, where I somehow ended up in debates with my Protestant friends (I’m still good friends with the one I’m thinking about!) about why we supposedly worship Mary, worship dead saints, believe in something “in addition to” God’s word (aka the Bible, preferably King James Version), etc.  The Internet isn’t any better, with various religious forums exhibiting varying degrees of criticism of Catholicism, ranging from academic criticism to emotionally charged anti-Catholicism (the CARM forums are a prime example of this, with supposed Christians calling Catholics pagans, satanists, demon worshippers, and more “LOL’s” than are found in my teenaged sister’s text message inbox).  Especially with the latter, many times such forums don’t lead to any constructive conclusions, and descend into fervent name calling, character assassination, logical fallacies, and of course the ubiquitous “LOLOLOLOLOL”.  And these are supposed adults.

The Catholic that happens upon such websites many times can’t help but show what we believe, and why we do.  But are you ready?  Do you have the right tools to explain and, at times, defend your Faith?  If you are not sure, you’ve come to the right place!  Below I will give a few great tools for the amateur Catholic apologist.

  1. The Holy Bible.  The most important tool that you will need is the Bible.  When debating with anyone, whether Evangelicals or Mormons, you will need the Bible on hand to show verses that explain our beliefs, as well as other verses besides that one that continue that concept.  Now, obviously we don’t all agree on what the Bible says, otherwise we would all be the same religion (Catholicism)!  However it is still important that you show the scriptural basis for all Catholic beliefs, whether it is explicit or implicit.  Which version? First and foremost, you will need a full, Catholic Bible.  The version used at Mass in the United States, as well as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the “New American Bible (NAB)”.  This is the version I use, and it has all of the canonical books of the Bible, unlike modern Protestant versions.  That being said, when discussing and debating with Mormons and Evangelicals, they will use the “King James Version (KJV)”, since both groups generally see it as the only authoritative English version of the Bible.  Therefore, when responding to adherents of these religions, I generally use the KJV, and if necessary, also reference the NAB.  A website I use for quick KJV references is Bible Gateway.  For the NAB, I use the USCCB’s website.
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism is the second most important tool you will need.  The Catechism is a great overview of Catholic beliefs on all major doctrines.  If someone asks you “who can perform a baptism in the Catholic Church” or tells you “don’t Catholics believe that it’s okay to pray to statues?”, you can respond with “well, according to section so and so from the Catechism…”.  The Catechism does not go into great depth on all doctrines, however it does list various references that you can find further information in.  You should already have a copy, however it is great to copy and paste from an online version.
  3. A Dictionary. Yes, I said it.  You need a dictionary.  Sometimes, you will need a common definition of a word, since people will use varying definitions, or even an incorrect definition.  A few days ago on the CARM forums, I had a funny (at least to me) debate over a Biblical reference in the Catechism, and how it used the word “through”.  One Evangelical made fun of us and said mocked us by saying “look, now according to the Catechism, the word “by” means “through”!  I quickly looked up the word “by” in the dictionary, and lo and behold, the second definition of “by” is “through”!  I then showed how the verse in question (using Bible Gateway listed above) uses “by” or “through” depending on the translation, and it means the same thing in all versions.  That discussion quickly ended.  Therefore, bookmark a dictionary.  Speaking of definitions, it is important for you to define common terms in certain situations, especially when discussing with Latter-day Saints, since we may have different concepts for the same words.  This is also true in certain situations with Evangelicals.  One definition that you will need to be aware of and always thinking about in a debate is “God”.  When we say “God”, who are we referring to?  This always comes up in debates on the Catholic phrase “mother of God”.  Interpreted incorrectly, many will think that we believe that Mary pre-existed God, and gave birth to the Trinity, which of course is blasphemous.  Therefore, in such discussions, make sure you explicitly say who you are referring to.  By “God”, do you mean the Trinity as a whole, or the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit?  This is very important, so keep that in mind.
  4. The Writings of the Early Church Fathers.  You should have a resource to reference the writings of the Early Church Fathers.  These early Christian theologians are invaluable resources to demonstrate that the Catholic Faith has been in existence since the beginning.  Now, others, including Evangelicals and Mormons, will at times reference the Church Fathers to demonstrate their own beliefs.  Therefore, you also need to be familiar with these writings when they are brought up, and you need to be able to see them in context.  Therefore, you cannot rely just on excerpts (although excerpts are certainly valuable and easy to pull out), but you need to see those excerpts, whether from Catholic or non-Catholic sources, in context.
  5. Foundational Knowledge of Your Own Faith. Before entering a debate with Evangelicals, Mormons, or anyone else, you need to have a foundational knowledge of your own faith before doing so.  You should be able to not only provide Scriptural evidence for the following beliefs, but you should also be able to appeal to the early Church Fathers, as well as plain old logic.  The beliefs that you should, at the very least, be comfortable explaining in such a manner are (in random order) : 1) The Papacy (including Papal Infallibility) ; 2) Ministerial Priesthood ; 3) Sacred Tradition AND Sacred Scripture ; 4) Doctrines related to Mary (Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, Assumption, “Mother of God”/Theotokos) ; 5) The 7 Sacraments (including what IS a sacrament, and especially infant baptism and the Real Presence) ; 6) Purgatory and prayer for the dead ; 7) intercession of saints (both earthly and Heavenly) ; 8) use of statues and icons ; 9) Defining the Trinity ;  10) what “the Church” is.  At the very least, you should be somewhat familiar with all of those, since they will all come up at some point in your amateur apologist career.  Also, when debating Mormons, you should be familiar with why the “priesthood keys” of the Church were not taken away from the earth, and why, although apostasy is clearly taught in the Bible (and we see evidence throughout history, including Mormon history itself), a complete and total Great Apostasy is not found in Scripture, nor did the early Christians believe in such a thing.
  6. Foundational Knowledge of the Faith You Are Debating. This is very important.  You don’t want to go into a debate with no understanding of the other religion, or, knowledge that comes from an anti/ex-[insert religion] book or website.  While I do read such books and websites, I also read the books and websites put forth by the religion itself or its adherents.  You should firstly have some knowledge of the “opposing” faith from that faith itself.  Mormonism is very easy for this if you plan to debate Latter-day Saint apologists.  You should browse this very basic website. You should also familiarize with the websites of FAIR, to see their own arguments.  I also glance at articles from the Maxwell Institute as well.  Jeff Lindsay’s website also has a lot of pro-LDS information.  For Evangelicals, I primarily use the CARM website.  Since there is no one “Evangelical Church”, you will have to reference the actual church of the person you are debating, though CARM has overviews of the common beliefs.  So, be sure you know who you are debating with.  You don’t want to look like an idiot by saying that they believe something that they actually do not.  Trust me, it’s done against Catholics all the time.
  7. Prayer. As Catholics, we know the great power of prayer.  Pray to God whenever you feel moved to do so.  Pray for yourself in a debate, and pray for the opposition.  And when you do pray for the opposition, I personally don’t like to tell them that I did, since I’ve noticed that many use that as a subtle form of condescension.  We can pray for others, but we don’t have to run around announcing it.  You can also ask for the intercession of any of the Heavenly saints that you feel would be able to pray for you in that situation.

Well, that’s about it!  With the above 7 items, you should be prepared to begin your adventure as an amateur apologist.  You’ll soon realize that you will not only learn a lot about other belief systems, but you’ll learn A LOT about your own Catholic Faith.  Debates at times with certain people may get very intense, and may degrade into personal attacks and slurs, especially on the CARM forums.  Do not descend to that level.  Remember your Catholic Faith, and know that while we can show why we believe that certain doctrines of other religions are false, we don’t have to resort to personal attacks to do so.  Do not let anyone, especially a non-Catholic, tell you what you believe or should believe.  Likewise, don’t tell anyone what they SHOULD believe.  Show them what YOU believe and why you do, and why you think that their belief is erroneous.  You should be able to notice the subtle difference there.   Below I have listed a few websites and books that I think would be useful to the beginning amateur apologist.  Good luck on your adventure, and remember to always PRAY!

Recommended Catholic Websites

Catholic Answers Faith Tracts

Catholic Answers Church Fathers References by Doctrine

Scripture Catholic

Apologetics Articles

Code of Canon Law

St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

Recommended Catholic Books (I have not read all of these books, however I have read excerpts of each at the least, and have read reviews of all)

A Biblical Defense of Catholicism

Why Do Catholics Do That?

Making Sense Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Century Christians Did

One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: The Early Church was the Catholic Church

The Mass of the Early Christians

The Resilient Church: The Glory, The Shame, and The Hope for Tomorrow

Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church

A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture

Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments

Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church

The Apostles


~ by onecatholic on September 7, 2009.

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