Theological science which has for its purpose the explanation and defense of the Christian religion
Apologetics, a theological science which has for its purpose the explanation and defense of the Christian religion. Apologetics means, broadly speaking, a form of apology. The term is derived from the Latin adjective, apologeticus, which, in turn has its origin in the Greek adjective, apologetikos, the substantive being apologia, “apology”, “defense”. As an equivalent of the plural form, the variant, “Apologetic”, is now and then found in recent writings, suggested probably by the corresponding French and German words, which are always in the singular. But the plural form, “Apologetics”, is far more common and will doubtless prevail, being in harmony with other words similarly formed, as ethics, statistics, homiletics.
In defining apologetics as a form of apology, we understand the latter word in its primary sense, as a verbal defense against a verbal attack, a disproving of a false accusation, or a justification of an action or line of conduct wrongly made the object of censure. Such, for example, is the Apology of Socrates, such the Apologia of John Henry Newman. This is the only sense attaching to the term as used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, or by the French and Germans of the present day.
Quite different is the meaning now conveyed by our English word, “apology”, namely, an explanation of an action acknowledged to be open to blame. The same idea is expressed almost exclusively by the verb, “apologize”, and generally by the adjective, “apologetic”. For this reason, the adoption of the word, “Apologetics”, in the sense of a scientific vindication of the Christian religion is not altogether a happy one. Some scholars prefer such terms as “Christian Evidences”, the “Defense of the Christian Religion“.
“Apologetics” and “Apology” are not altogether interchangeable terms. The latter is the generic term, the former the specific. Any kind of accusation, whether personal, social, political, or religious, may call forth a corresponding apology. It is only apologies of the Christian religion that fall within the scope of apologetics. Nor is it all such. There is scarcely a dogma, scarcely a ritual or disciplinary institution of the Church that has not been subjected to hostile criticism, and hence, as occasion required, been vindicated by proper apologies. But besides these forms of apology, there are the answers that have been called forth by attacks of various kinds upon the credentials of the Christian religion, apologies written to vindicate now this, now that ground of the Christian Catholic faith, that has been called in question or held up to disbelief and ridicule.
Now it is out of such apologies for the foundations of Christian belief that the science of apologetics has taken form. Apologetics is the Christian Apology par excellence, combining in one well-rounded system the arguments and considerations of permanent value that have found expression in the various single apologies. The latter, being answers to specific attacks, were necessarily conditioned by the occasions that called them forth.
They were personal, controversial, partial vindications of the Christian position. In them the refutation of specific charges was the prominent element. Apologetics, on the other hand, is the comprehensive, scientific vindication of the grounds of Christian, Catholic belief, in which the calm, impersonal presentation of underlying principles is of paramount importance, the refutation of objections being added by way of corollary. It addresses itself not to the hostile opponent for the purpose of refutation, but rather to the inquiring mind by way of information.
Its aim is to give a scientific presentation of the claims which Christ’s revealed religion has on the assent of every rational mind; it seeks to lead the inquirer after truth to recognize, first, the reasonableness and trust-worthiness of the Christian revelation as realized in the Catholic Church, and secondly, the corresponding obligation of accepting it.
While not compelling faith—for the certitude it offers is not absolute, but moral—it shows that the credentials of the Christian religion amply suffice to vindicate the act of faith as a rational act, and to discredit the estrangement of the sceptic and unbeliever as unwarranted and culpable. Its last word is the answer to the question: Why should I be a Catholic? Apologetics thus leads up to Catholic faith, to the acceptance of the Catholic Church as the divinely authorized organ for preserving and rendering efficacious the saving truths revealed by Christ. This is the great fundamental dogma on which all other dogmas rest. Hence apologetics also goes by the name of “fundamental theology”.
Apologetics is generally viewed as one branch of dogmatic science, the other and chief branch being dogmatic theology proper. It is well to note, however, that in point of view and method also they are quite distinct. Dogmatic theology, like moral theology, addresses itself primarily to those who are already Catholic. It presupposes faith. Apologetics, on the other hand, in theory at least, simply leads up to faith. The former begins where the latter ends. Apologetics is preeminently a positive, historical discipline, whereas dogmatic theology is rather philosophic and deductive, using as its premises data of divine and ecclesiastical authority—the contents of revelation and their interpretation by the Church.
It is only in exploring and in treating dogmatically the elements of natural religion, the sources of its authoritative data, that dogmatic theology comes in touch with apologetics.
As has been pointed out, the object of apologetics is to give a scientific answer to the question, Why should I be a Catholic? Now this question involves two others which are also fundamental. The one is: Why should I be a Christian rather than an adherent of the Jewish religion, or the Mohammedan, or the Zoroastrian, or of some other religious system setting up a rival claim to be revealed? The other, still more fundamental, question is: Why should I profess any religion at all? Thus the science of apologetics easily falls into three great divisions: First, the study of religion in general and the grounds of theistic belief; second, the study of revealed religion and the grounds of Christian belief; third, the study of the true Church of Christ and the grounds of Catholic belief.
In the first of these divisions, the apologist inquires into the nature of religion, its universality, and man’s natural capacity to acquire religious ideas. In connection with this the modern study of the religious philosophy of uncultured peoples has to be taken into consideration, and the various theories concerning the origin of religion present themselves for critical discussion. This leads to the examination of the grounds of theistic belief, including the important questions of (I) the existence of a divine Personality, the Creator and Conserver of the world, exercising a special providence over man; (2) man’s freedom of will and his corresponding religious and moral responsibility in virtue of his dependence on God; (3) the immortality of the human soul, and the future life with its attendant rewards and punishments. Coupled with these questions is the refutation of monism, determinism, and other antitheistic theories. Religious philosophy and apologetics here march hand in hand.
The second division, on revealed religion, is even more comprehensive. After treating the notion, possibility, and moral necessity of a divine revelation, and its discernibility through various internal and external criteria, the apologist proceeds to establish the fact of revelation. Three distinct, progressive stages of revelation are set forth: Primitive Revelation, Mosaic Revelation, and Christian Revelation. The chief sources on which he has to rely in establishing this triple fact of revelation are the Sacred Scriptures. But if he is logical, he must prescind from their inspiration and treat them provisionally as human historical documents. Here he must depend on the critical study of the Old and New Testaments by impartial scriptural scholars, and build on the accredited results of their researches touching the authenticity and trustworthiness of the sacred books purporting to be historical.
It is only by anticipation that an argument for the fact of primitive revelation can be based on the ground that it is taught in the inspired book of Genesis, and that it is implied in the supernatural state of our first parents. In the absence of anything like contemporary documents, the apologist has to lay chief stress on the high antecedent probability of primitive revelation, and show how a revelation of limited, but sufficient scope for primitive man is compatible with a very crude stage of material and aesthetic culture, and hence is not discredited by the sound results of prehistoric archaeology.
Closely connected with this question is the scientific study of the origin and antiquity of man, and the unity of the human species; and, as still larger subjects bearing on the historic value of the sacred Book of Origins, the compatibility with Scripture of the modern sciences of biology, astronomy, and geology. In like manner the apologist has to content himself with showing the fact of Mosaic revelation to be highly probable.
The difficulty, in the present condition of Old Testament criticism, of recognizing more than a small portion of the Pentateuch as documentary evidence contemporary with Moses, makes it, incumbent on the apologist to proceed with caution lest, in attempting to prove too much, he may bring into discredit what is decidedly tenable apart from dogmatic considerations. However, there is sufficient evidence allowed by all but the most radical critics to establish the fact that Moses was the providential instrument for delivering the Hebrew people from Egyptian bondage, and for teaching them a system of religious legislation that in lofty monotheism and ethical worth is far superior to the beliefs and customs of the surrounding nations, thus affording a strong presumption in favor of its claim to be revealed. This presumption gains strength and clearness in the light of Messianic prophecy, which shines with ever increasing volume and brightness through the history of the Jewish religion till it illumines the personality of our Divine Lord. In this study of Mosaic revelation, biblical archaeology is of no small service to the apologist.
When the apologist comes to the subject of Christian revelation, he finds himself on much firmer ground. Starting with the generally recognized results of New Testament criticism, he is enabled to show that the synoptic Gospels, on the one hand, and the undisputed Epistles of St. Paul, on the other, offer two independent, yet mutually corroborative, masses of evidence concerning the person and work of Jesus.
As this evidence embodies the unimpeachable testimony of thoroughly reliable eyewitnesses and their associates, it presents a portraiture of Jesus that is truly historical. After showing from the records that Jesus taught, now implicitly, now explicitly, that he was the long expected Messiah, the Son of God sent by His Heavenly Father to enlighten and save mankind, and to found the new kingdom of justice, Apologetics proceeds to set forth the grounds for believing in these claims: (I) the surpassing beauty of His moral character, stamping Him as the unique, perfect man; (2) the lofty excellence of his moral and religious teaching, which has no parallel elsewhere, and which answers the highest aspirations of the human soul; (3) His miracles wrought during His public mission; (4) the transcendent miracle of His resurrection, which He foretold as well; (5) the wonderful regeneration of society through His undying personal influence.
Then, by way of supplementary proof, the apologist institutes an impartial comparison of Christianity with the various rival religious systems of the world—Brahminism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Taoism, Mohammedanism—and shows how in the person of its founder, in its moral and religious ideal and influence, the Christian religion is immeasurably superior to all others, and alone has a claim to our assent as the absolute, divinely-revealed religion. Here, too, in the survey of Buddhism, the specious objection, not uncommon today, that Buddhist ideas and legends have contributed to the formation of the Gospels, calls for a summary refutation.
Beyond the fact of Christian revelation the Protestant apologist does not proceed. But the Catholic rightly insists that the scope of apologetics should not end here. Both the New Testament records and those of the sub-Apostolic age bear witness that Christianity was meant to be something more than a religious philosophy of life, more than a mere system of individual belief and practice, and that it cannot be separated historically from a concrete form of social organization. Hence Catholic apologetics adds, as a necessary sequel to the established fact of Christian revelation, the demonstration of the true Church of Christ and its identity with the Roman Catholic Church.
From the records of the Apostles and their immediate successors is set forth the institution of the Church as a true, unequal society, endowed with the supreme authority of its Founder, and commissioned in His name to teach and sanctify mankind; possessing the essential features of visibility, indefectibility, and infallibility; characterized by the distinctive marks of unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. These notes of the true Church of Christ are then applied as criteria to the various rival Christian denominations of the present day, with the result that they are found fully exemplified in the Roman Catholic Church alone.
With the supplementary exposition of the primacy and infallibility of the Pope, and of the rule of faith, the work of apologetics is brought to its fitting close. It is true that some apologists see fit to treat also of inspiration and the analysis of the act of faith. But, strictly speaking, these are not apologetic subjects. While they may logically be included in the prolegomena of dogmatic theology, they rather belong, the one to the province of Scripture-study, the other to the tract of moral theology dealing with the theological virtues.
The history of apologetic literature involves the survey of the varied attacks that have been made against the grounds of Christian, Catholic belief. It may be marked off into four great divisions. The FIRST division is the period from the beginning of Christianity to the downfall of the Roman Empire (A.D. 476). It is chiefly characterized by the twofold struggle of Christianity with Judaism and with paganism. The SECOND division is coextensive with the Middle Ages, from A.D. 476 to the Reformation. In this period we find Christianity in conflict with the Mohammedan religion and philosophy. The THIRD division takes in the period from the beginning of the Reformation to the rise of rationalism in England in the middle of the seventeenth century. It is the period of struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism. The FOURTH division embraces the period of rationalism, from the middle of the seventeenth century down to the present day. Here we find Christianity in conflict with Deism, Pantheism, Materialism, Agnosticism, and Naturalism.
FIRST PERIOD. (A) Apologies in Answer to the Opposition of Judaism.—It lay in the nature of things that Christianity should meet with strong Jewish opposition. In dispensing with circumcision and other works of the Law, Christianity had incurred the imputation of running counter to God‘s immutable will. Again, Christ’s humble and obscure life, ending in the ignominious death on the cross, was the very opposite of what the Jews expected of their Messiah. Their judgment seemed to be confirmed by the fact that Christianity attracted but an insignificant portion of the Jewish people, and spread with greatest vigor among the despised Gentiles.
To justify the claims of Christianity before the Jews, the early apologists had to give an answer to these difficulties. Of these apologies the most important is the “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew” composed by Justin Martyr about 155-160. He vindicates the new religion against the objections of the learned Jew, arguing with great cogency that it is the perfection of the Old Law, and showing by an imposing array of Old Testament passages that the Hebrew prophets point to Jesus as the Messiah and incarnate Son of God. He insists also that it is in Christianity that the destiny of the Hebrew religion to become the religion of the world is to find its realization, and hence it is the followers of Christ, and not the unbelieving Jews, that are the true children of Israel. By his elaborate argument from Messianic prophecy, Justin won the grateful recognition of later apologists. Similar apologies were composed by Tertullian, “Against the Jews” (Adversus Judaeos, about 200), and by St. Cyprian, “Three Books of Evidences against the Jews” (about 250).
(B) Apologies in Answer to Pagan Opposition.—Of far more serious moment to the early Christian Church was the bitter opposition it met from paganism. The polytheistic religion of the Roman Empire, venerated for its antiquity, was intertwined with every fibre of the body politic. Its providential influence was a matter of firm belief. It was associated with the highest culture, and had the sanction of the greatest poets and sages of Greece and Rome. Its splendid temples and stately ritual gave it a grace and dignity that captivated the popular imagination. On the other hand, Christian monotheism was an innovation. It made no imposing display of liturgy. Its disciples were, for the most part, persons of humble birth and station. Its sacred literature had little attraction for the fastidious reader accustomed to the elegant diction of the classic authors.
And so the popular mind viewed it with misgivings, or despised it as an ignorant superstition. But opposition did not end here. The uncompromising attitude of the new religion towards pagan rites was decried as the greatest impiety. The Christians were branded as atheists, and as they held aloof from the public functions also, which were invariably associated with these false rites, they were accused of being enemies of the State. The Christian custom of ‘worshipping in secret assembly seemed to add force to this charge, for secret societies were forbidden by Roman law. Nor were calumnies wanting. The popular imagination easily distorted the vaguely-known Agape and Eucharistic Sacrifice into abominable rites marked by feasting on infant flesh and by indiscriminate lust. The outcome was that the people and authorities took alarm at the rapidly spreading Church and sought to repress it by force. To vindicate the Christian cause against these attacks of paganism, many apologies were written.
Some, notably the “Apology” of Justin Martyr (150), the “Plea for the Christians”, by Athenagoras (177), and the “Apologetic” of Tertullian (197), were addressed to emperors for the express purpose of securing for the Christians immunity from persecution. Others were composed to convince the pagans of the folly of polytheism and of the saving truth of Christianity. Such were: Tatian, “Discourse to the Greeks” (160), Theophilus, “Three Books to Autolychus” (180), the “Epistle to Diognetus” (about 190), the “Octavius” of Minucius Felix (192), Origen, “True Discourse against Celsus” (248), Lactantius, “Institutes” (312), and St. Augustine, “City of God” (415-426).
In these apologies the argument from Old Testament prophecy has a more prominent place than that from miracles. But the one on which most stress is laid is that of the transcendent excellence of Christianity. Though not clearly marked out, a twofold line of thought runs through this argument: Christianity is light, whereas paganism is darkness; Christianity is power, whereas paganism is weakness. Enlarging on these ideas, the apologists contrast the logical coherence of the religious tenets of Christianity, and its lofty ethical teaching, with the follies and inconsistencies of polytheism, the low ethical principles of its philosophers, and the indecencies of its mythology and of some of its rites. They likewise show that the Christian religion alone has the power to transform man from a slave of sin into a spiritual freeman. They compare what they once were as pagans with what they now are as Christians. They draw a telling contrast between the loose morality of pagan society and the exemplary lives of Christians, whose devotion to their religious principles is stronger than death itself.
SECOND PERIOD. CHRISTIANITY IN CONFLICT WITH MOHAMMEDAN RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY. The one dangerous rival with which Christianity had to contend in the Middle Ages was the Mohammedan religion. Within a century of its birth, it had torn from Christendom some of its fairest lands and extended like a huge crescent from Spain over Northern Africa, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Persia, and Syria, to the eastern part of Asia Minor. The danger which this fanatic religion offered to Christian faith, in countries where the two religions came in contact, was not to be treated lightly. And so we find a series of apologies written to uphold the truth of Christianity in the face of Moslem errors.
Perhaps the earliest was the “Discussion between a Saracen and a Christian” composed by St. John Damascene (about 750). In this apology he vindicates the dogma of the Incarnation against the rigid and fatalistic conception of God taught by Mohammed. He also demonstrates the superiority of the religion of Christ, pointing out the grave defects in Mohammed’s life and teaching, and showing the Koran to be in its best parts but a feeble imitation of the Sacred Scriptures.
Other apologies of a similar kind were composed by Peter the Venerable in the twelfth, and by Raymond of Martini in the thirteenth century. Hardly less dangerous to Christian faith was the rationalistic philosophy of Islamism. The Arabian conquerors had learned from the Syrians the arts and sciences of the Greek world. They became especially proficient in medicine, mathematics, and philosophy, for the study of which they erected in every part of their domain schools and libraries. In the twelfth century Moorish Spain had nineteen colleges, and their renown attracted hundreds of Christian scholars from every part of Europe.
Herein lay a grave menace to Christian orthodoxy, for the philosophy of Aristotle as taught in these schools had become thoroughly tinctured with Arabian pantheism and rationalism. The peculiar tenet of the celebrated Moorish philosopher Averroes was much in vogue, namely: that philosophy and religion are two independent spheres of thought, so that what is true in the one may be false in the other. Again, it was commonly taught that faith is for the masses who cannot think for themselves, but philosophy is a higher form of knowledge which noble minds should seek to acquire.
Among the fundamental dogmas denied by the Arabian philosophers were creation, providence, and immortality. To vindicate Christianity against Mohammedan rationalism, St. Thomas composed (1261-64) his philosophical “Summa contra Gentiles“, in four books. In this great apology the respective claims of reason and faith are carefully distinguished and harmonized, and a systematic demonstration of the grounds of faith is built up with arguments of reason and authority such as appealed directly to the minds of that day. In treating of God, providence, creation and the future life, St. Thomas refutes the chief errors of the Arabian, Jewish, and Greek philosophers, and shows that the genuine teaching of Aristotle confirms the great truths of religion.
Three apologies composed in much the same spirit, but belonging to a later age, may be mentioned here. The one is the fine work of Louis Vives, “De Veritate Fidei Christian Libri V” (about 1530). After treating the principles of natural theology, the Incarnation, and Redemption, he gives two dialogues, one between a Christian and a Jew, the other between a Christian and a Mohammedan, in which he shows the superiority of the Christian religion. Similar to this is the apology of the celebrated Dutch theologian Grotius, “De Veritate Religionis Christian” (1627). It is in six books. An able treatise on natural theology is followed by a demonstration of the truth of Christianity based on the life and miracles of Jesus, the holiness of His teaching, and the wonderful propagation of His religion. In proving the authenticity and trustworthiness of the Sacred Scriptures, Grotius appeals largely to internal evidence. The latter part of the work is devoted to a refutation of paganism, Judaism, and Mohammedanism. An apology on somewhat similar lines is that of the Huguenot, Philip de Mornay, “De la verite de la religion chretienne” (1579). It is the first apology of note that was written in a modern tongue.
THIRD PERIOD. CATHOLICISM IN CONFLICT WITH PROTESTANTISM. The outbreak of Protestantism in the beginning of the sixteenth century, and its rejection of many of the fundamental features of Catholicism, called forth a mass of controversial apologetic literature. It was not, of course, the first time that the principles of Catholic belief had been questioned with reference to Christian orthodoxy. In the early ages of the Church heretical sects, assuming the right to profess allegiance and fidelity to the spirit of Christ, had given occasion to St. Irenaeus “On Heresies”, Tertullian “On Prescription against Heretics,” St. Vincent of Lerins, in his “Commonitory”, to insist on unity with the Catholic Church, and, for the purpose of confuting the heretical errors of private interpretation, to appeal to an authoritative rule of faith. In like manner, the rise of heretical sects in the three centuries preceding the Reformation led to an accentuation of the fundamental principles of Catholicism, notably in Moneta‘s “Summa contra Catharos et Waldenses” (about 1225), and Torquemada’s “Summa de Ecclesia” (1450). So to a far greater extent, in the outpouring from many sources of Protestant ideas, it became the duty of the hour to defend the true nature of the Church of Christ, to vindicate its authority, its divinely authorized hierarchy under the primacy of the Pope, its visibility, unity, perpetuity, and infallibility, along with other doctrines and practices branded as superstitions.
In the first heat of this gigantic controversy the writings on both sides were sharply polemic, abounding in personal recriminations. But towards the close of the century there developed a tendency to treat the controverted questions more in the manner of a calm, systematic apology. Two works belonging to this time are especially noteworthy. One is the “Disputationes de controversiis Christianae Fidei” (1581-92), by Robert Bellarmin, a monumental work of vast erudition, rich in apologetic material. The other is the “Principiorum Fidei Doctrinalium Demonstratio” (1579), by Robert Stapleton, whom Dellinger pronounced to be the prince of controversialists. Though not so erudite, it is more profound than the work of Bellarmin. Another excellent work of this period is that of Martin Becan, “De Ecclesia Christi” (1633).
FOURTH PERIOD. CHRISTIANITY IN CONFLICT WITH RATIONALISM.—(A) From the Middle of the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century. Rationalism—the setting up of the human reason as the source and measure of all knowable truth—is, of course, not confined to any one period of human history. It has existed from the earliest days of philosophy. But in Christian society it did not become a notable factor till the middle of the seventeenth century, when it asserted itself chiefly in the form of Deism. It was associated, and even to a large extent identified with the rapidly growing movement towards greater intellectual freedom which, stimulated by fruitful scientific inquiry, found itself seriously hampered by the narrow views of inspiration and of historic Bible-interpretation which then prevailed.
The Bible had been set up as an infallible source of knowledge not only in matters of religion, but of history, chronology, and physical science. The result was a reaction against the very essentials of Christianity. Deism became the intellectual fashion of the day, leading in many cases to downright atheism. Starting with the principle that no religious doctrine is of value that cannot be proved by experience or by philosophical reflection, the Deists admitted the existence of a God external to the world, but denied every form of divine intervention, and accordingly rejected revelation, inspiration, miracles, and prophecy.
Together with unbelievers of a still more pronounced type, they assailed the historic value of the Bible, decrying its miraculous narratives as fraud and superstition. The movement started in England, and in the eighteenth century spread to France and Germany. Its baneful influence was deep and far-reaching, for it found zealous exponents in some of the leading philosophers and men of letters—Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau, d’Alembert, Diderot, Lessing, Herder, and others. But able apologists were not lacking to champion the Christian cause.
England produced several that won lasting honor for their scholarly defense of fundamental Christian truths—Lardner, author of the “Credibility of the Gospel History”, in twelve volumes (1741-55); Butler, likewise famous for his “Analogy of Religion Natural and Revealed to the Constitution of Nature” (1736); Campbell, who in his “Dissertation on Miracles” (1766) gave a masterly answer to Hume’s arguments against miracles; and Paley, whose “Evidences of Christianity” (1794) and “Natural Theology” (1802) are among the classics of English theological literature. On the continent, the work of defense was carried on by such men as Bishop Huet, who published his “Demonstration Evangelique” in 1679; Leibnitz, whose “Theodicke” (1684), with its valuable introduction on the conformity of faith with reason, had a great influence for good; the Benedictine Abbot Gerbert, who gave a comprehensive Christian apology in his “Demonstratio Verge Religionis Veraeque Ecclesie Contra Quasvis Falsas” (1760); and the Abbe Bergier, whose “Traite historique et dogmatique de la vraie religion”, in twelve volumes (1780), showed ability and erudition.
—(B) The Nineteenth Century. In the last century the conflict of Christianity with rationalism was in part lightened and in part complicated by the marvellous development of scientific and historic inquiry. Lost languages, like the Egyptian and the Babylonian, were recovered, and thereby rich and valuable records of the past—many of them unearthed by laborious and costly excavation—were made to tell their story. Much of this bore on the relations of the ancient Hebrew people with the surrounding nations and, while in some instances creating new difficulties, for the most part helped to corroborate the truth of the Bible history.
Out of these researches have grown a number of valuable and interesting apologetic studies on Old Testament history: Schrader, “Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament” (London, 1872); Hengstenberg’s “Egypt and the Books of Moses” (London, 1845); Harper, “The Bible and Modern Discoveries” (London, 1891); McCurdy, “History, Prophecy, and the Monuments” (London–New York, 1894-1900); Pinches, “The Old Testament in the Light of the Historic Records of Assyria and Babylonia” (London–New York, 1902); Abbe Gainet, “La bible sans la bible, ou l’histoire de l’ancien testament par les seuls temoignages profanes” (Bar-le-Duc, 1871); Vigouroux, “La bible et les decouvertes modernes” (Paris, 1889). On the other hand, Biblical chronology, as then understood, and the literal historic interpretation of the Book of Genesis were thrown into confusion by the advancing sciences—astronomy, with its grand nebular hypothesis; biology, with its even more fruitful theory of evolution; geology, and prehistoric archeology.
Rationalists eagerly laid hold of these scientific data, and sought to turn them to the discredit of the Bible and likewise of the Christian religion. But able apologies were forthcoming to essay a conciliation of science and religion. Among them were: Dr. (afterwards Cardinal) Wiseman, “Twelve Lectures on the Connection between Science and Revealed Religion” (London, 1847), which, though antiquated in parts, is still valuable reading; Reusch, “Nature and the Bible” (London, 1876). Others more modern and up to date are: Duilhe de Saint-Projet, “Apologie scientifique de lla foi chretienne” (Paris, 1885); Abbe Guibert, “In the Beginning” (New York, 1904), one of the best Catholic treatises on the subject; and more recent still, A. de Lapparent, “Science et apologetique” (Paris, 1905).
A more delicate form of scientific inquiry for Christian belief was the application of the principles of historic criticism to the books of Holy Scripture. Not a few Christian scholars looked with grave misgivings on the progress made in this legitimate department of human research, the results of which called for a reconstruction of many traditional views of Scripture. Rationalists found here a congenial field of study, which seemed to promise the undermining of Scripture-authority. Hence it was but natural that the encroachments of Biblical criticism on conservative theology should be disputed inch by inch. On the whole, the outcome of the long and spirited contest has been to the advantage of Christianity.
It is true that the Pentateuch, so long attributed to Moses, is now held by the vast majority of non-Catholic, and by an increasing number of Catholic, scholars to be a compilation of four independent sources put together in final shape soon after the Captivity. But the antiquity of much of the contents of these sources has been firmly established, as well as the strong presumption that the kernel of the Pentateuchal legislation is of Mosaic institution. This has been shown by Kirkpatrick in his “Divine Library of the Old Testament” (London–New York, 1901), by Driver in his “Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament” (New York, 1897), and by Abbe Lagrange, in his “Methode historique de l’Ancien Testament” (Paris, 1903; tr. London, 1905). In the New Testament the results of Biblical criticism are still more assuring.
The attempt of the Tubingen school to throw the Gospels far into the second century, and to see in most of the Epistles of St. Paul the work of a much later hand, has been absolutely discredited. The synoptic Gospels are now generally recognized, even by advanced critics, to belong to the years 65-85, resting on still earlier written and oral sources, and the Gospel of St. John is brought with certainty down to at least A.D. 110, that is, within a very few years of the death of St. John. The three Epistles of St. John are recognized as genuine, the pastoral letters being now the chief object of dispute.
Closely connected with the theory of the Tubingen School was the attempt of the rationalist Strauss to explain away the miraculous element in the Gospels as the mythical fancies of an age much later than that of Jesus. Strauss’s views, embodied in his “Life of Jesus” (1835), were ably refuted, together with the false assertions and inductions of the Tubingen School, by such Catholic scholars as Kuhn, Hug, Sepp, Dellinger, and by the Protestant critics, Ewald, Meyer, Wieseler, Tholuck, Luthardt, and others. The outcome of Strauss’s “Life of Jesus, “and of Renan’s vain attempt to improve on it by giving it a legendary form (Vie de Jesus, 1863), has been a number of scholarly biographies of our blessed Lord: by Fouard, “Christ the Son of God” (New York, 1891); Didon, “Jesus Christ” (New York, 1891); Edersheim, “Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” (New York, 1896), and others.
Another field of study which grew up chiefly in the last century, and has had an influence in shaping the science of apologetics, is the study of religions. The study of the great religious systems of the pagan world, and their comparison with Christianity, furnished material for a number of specious arguments against the independent and supernatural origin of the Christian religion. So, too, the study of the origin of religion in the light of the religious philosophy of uncultured peoples has been exploited against Christian (theistic belief) on the unwarranted ground that Christianity is but a refinement, through a long process of evolution, of a crude primitive religion originating in ghost-worship.
Among those who have distinguished themselves in this branch of apologetics are Dollinger, whose “Heidenthum and Judenthum” (1857), tr. “Gentile and Jew in the Court of the Temple” (London, 1865-67), is a mine of information on the comparative merits of revealed religion and the paganism of the Roman world; Abbe de Broglie, author of the suggestive volume, “Probe lemes et conclusions de l’histoire des religions” (Paris, 1886); Hardwick, “Christ and Other Masters” (London, 1875).
Another factor in the growth of apologetics during the last century was the rise of numerous systems of philosophy that, in the teaching of such men as Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, Comte, and Spencer, were openly or covertly in opposition to Christian belief. To counteract these systems, Pope Leo XIII revived throughout the Catholic world the teaching of Thomistic philosophy. The many works written to vindicate Christian Theism against Pantheism, Materialism, Positivism, and Evolutionary Monism have been of great service to apologetics.
Not all these philosophic apologies, indeed, are scholastic. They represent several modern schools of thought. France has furnished a number of able apologetic thinkers who lay chief stress on the subjective element in man, who point to the needs and aspirations of the soul, and to the corresponding fitness of Christianity, and of Christianity alone, to satisfy them. This line of thought has been worked out in various ways by the lately deceased Olle-Laprune, author of “La certitude morale” (Paris, 1880), and “Le prix de la vie” (Paris, 1892); by Fonsegrive, “Le catholicisme et la vie de l’esprit” (Paris, 1899); and, in “L’action” (Paris, 1893), by Blondel, the founder of the so-called “Immanence School” the principles of which are embodied in the spiritual writings of Father Tyrrell, “Lex Orandi” (London, 1903), “Lex Credendi” (London, 1906).
The continued opposition between Catholicism and Protestantism in the last century resulted in the production of a number of noteworthy apologetic writings: Mohler, “Symbolism“, published in Germany in 1832, which has gone through many editions in English; Balmes, “Protestantism and Catholicity Compared in their Effects on the Civilization of Europe“, a Spanish work published in English in 1840 (Baltimore); the works of the three illustrious English cardinals, Wiseman, Newman, and Manning, most of whose writings have a bearing on apologetics.
It is out of all these varied and extensive studies that apologetics has taken form. The vastness of the field makes it extremely difficult for any one writer to do it full justice. In fact a complete, comprehensive apology of uniform excellence still remains to be written.
CHARLES F. AIKEN