Apologetics is that branch of theology that defends the faith with reasoned arguments.
St Stephen was doing apologetics before Christians were even called Christians and St Paul seems to savour his intellectual jousts with the Stoics and Epicureans of his day.
Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Augustine of Hippo all argued how Christianity was not only fulfilling as regards faith and morals, but was also the most reasonable of all the then — contemporary systems of thought.
Apologetics remained a part of theology through the ages (think St Thomas’s “Five ways” or John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua) but recently the spirit of Vatican II appeared to put greater emphasis on an inter-religious and ecumenical quest for common ground and
The problem is, not all religions shared this idea of rapprochement and when accusations ensued, defence was warranted.
At least such is the reasoning of a new breed of apologists like Patrick Madrid who in Envoy for Christ gathers a selection of his hundreds of articles and debates over a 25- year period, published in multiple journals including his own Catholic Answers and Envoy or argued over
Mother Angelica’s broadcasting network.
The works cover all the topics one would expect: the papacy, purgatory, saints and statues, Catholics and the Bible, the deutero-canonical books of the Bible.
There is no doubt that Madrid comes from an American context. He writes very little on Islam — and surprisingly little on Atheism — saving most of his ammunition for Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism and fundamentalist Christianity.
An entire section is dedicated to sola scriptura which he finds unhistorical, unbiblical and unworkable. He does, however, allow a Reformed Evangelical apologist a fair go with an essay in defence of this foundation of Protestantism.
Although very knowledgeable of the Church Fathers, perhaps because he is dealing with fundamentalists, Madrid often interprets Scripture rather literally.
Moreover, by his own admission, his earlier writings are often aggressive in tone. His treatment of what he calls an already schismatic radical feminism is a good example.
His later works are far more empathetic.
Perhaps the most moving is a heart-rending article on forgiveness which features a young sister raped by Bosnian soldiers and carrying the child of the horrific violence.
Post-Vatican II apologetics is making a necessary comeback. Envoy for Christ gives a good introduction into the American scene where lukewarm Catholicism is the happy hunting grounds of fundamentalist evangelisation.
The New Zealand context for apologetics would be different; here the opposition is more secularism than Christian fundamentalism.
Anyone inspired by Madrid’s work to do apologetics in the New Zealand context would be doing the Church a great service.
ENVOY FOR CHRIST: 25 Years as a Catholic Apologist by Patrick Madrid, 2012. Available from amazon.com Reviewed by DANIEL J. STOLLENWERK.
Dan Stollenwerk is head of the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy at St Peter’s College, Auckland.