As many of you are aware, I recently joined the staff of Catholic Answers and its team of gifted apologists. In the process of sharing the news with relatives and friends, I have noticed a common pattern in their reaction. “So, you’re a Catholic Apologist?” “What exactly is that?” “Does that mean you go around apologizing to others for being Catholic?”
It is clear to me that this is somewhat of a downside to being a professional apologist. Sadly, most people just aren’t familiar with apologetics. For years I have been identified as an evangelist. The vast majority of folks get that. They understand that an evangelist evangelizes. So it stands to reason that an apologist apologizes, right? Well, no. Not in the way most people think.
The modern understanding of the word apology would lead one to believe that an apologist is someone who goes around saying he is sorry for what he believes. However, the term apologist is derived from the classical Greek word apologia, which means a formal explanation or defense. In the ancient Greek legal system, the prosecution was responsible for presenting the kategoria (accusation or charge) to which the defendant responded with an apologia (a formal explanation, defense, or rebuttal).
The term apologia appears several times in the New Testament and is employed in the context of convincing and persuading unbelievers of the truth claims of the Church that Christ founded.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read that St. Paul, after being beaten and arrested, addresses the tribunal with these words, "Brethren and fathers, hear my defense [apologia] which I now make before you" (Acts 22:1). In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle to the Gentiles once again employs the same term when he exclaims, “This is my defense [apologia] to those who would examine me” (1 Cor. 9:3). In his epistle to the Philippians, the imprisoned St. Paul reflects upon his task of offering a "defense [apologia] of the Gospel" (Phil. 1:16). In St. Peter’s first epistle, we have arguably the most commonly cited verse related to apologetics and the mantra of all Christian apologists: "Always be prepared to make a defense [apologia] to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet. 3:15).
In short, a Catholic apologist is not someone who apologizes for the teachings, beliefs, doctrines, and practices of the Catholic Church, but rather is dedicated to explaining and defending them with charity and clarity. Now, if I could only find a way to fit that on my business card.