When the story of Catholic apologetics in the twentieth-century comes to be written, no group will rank higher in influence or esteem than the Catholic Evidence Guild. Now nearly defunct, the Guild remains an inspiration for.aspiring defenders of the faith.
Many fine apologists, including long-time Guild leaders Frank Sheed and his wife, Maisie Ward, honed their art at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park and at Guild “pitches” throughout England, the U.S., and other English-speaking countries. They brought the truths of the faith to skeptical and often hostile audiences.
Here we present short commentaries, written fifty years ago, by some of the Guild’s top spokesmen. A few of the facts may be dated, but the spirit animating the Guildsmen of the 1940s lives in their heirs in the 1990s.
The One True Church
Al Catholics, nowadays around some four hundred millions, believe and are convinced that there is only One True Church-namely their own.
People not in communion with Rome consider this an unwarrantable assumption to be dismissed with contempt. Such a frame of mind has the advantage at any rate of throwing the issue of one church versus several into clear relief.
At first glance the Catholic view appears bigoted. In reality it is no more bigoted than the view, fairly widespread, that there is only one God. If belief in one God is reasonable, why should belief in one church be bigoted? All the churches and religious institutions, however, differ from one another. They can hardly therefore all be equally true.
To Catholics it is evident that the confusion in belief among non-Catholics is largely due to a faulty use of the reasoning faculty, applying private judgment where it cannot successfully operate.
While the existence of God and the oneness of God can be attained by the reason alone, the bulk of the Christian faith, on the other hand, reaches men as a thing or things revealed: a thing we could never have known unless it were revealed, a thing we could never hold unless we receive the gift of faith, a thing which could never be preserved in its entirety for any length of time unless the revelation were anchored to and protected by an institution markedly differing from all other institutions, inviting belief in its government and mission as divinely established and ratified. Such in fact Catholics believe their church to be.
Non-Catholic Christians also believe that Christianity is revealed truth. For them the Old and New Testaments constitute the sources of authority. In practice they mean the Scriptures as privately judged by themselves or others. This principle was the actuating motive behind a hundred founders of churches and sects, the emergence of which into being has created and increased confusion and doubt as sect has been piled against sect. Certitude as to the historicity, inerrancy, and divine inspiration of Scripture does not in itself guarantee accurate g.asp of the truth of Scripture, still less any infallibility in the mind of the student.
From all this the Catholic, where loyal to the Church, has been protected. Receiving his faith upon the authority of God’s revelation, he finds the anchorage for this faith in the Roman pontiff. For twenty centuries the popes with their authority and jurisdiction have held the Church in continuous worldwide unity.
The Catholic Church proclaims her distinctive character, as contrasted with all other institutions, by the four marks of unity, sanctity, universality and continuity. Each of these marks separately and all four collectively exhibit a prodigious or miraculous quality furnishing to the world outside the motives or grounds for belief.
The Church has always been one since her foundation by Christ. She has always been holy since her foundation, holy by her teaching, by the production of saints in every age, and by miracles. Tied to no particular nation and no specific culture, she embraces now and has always embraced as her members, greater or lesser numbers drawn from all the peoples of the discovered world, thus exhibiting universality or catholicity. These three marks having been with the Church throughout her history, there is constituted the fourth mark, continuity or apostolicity. By this is meant that she has been one, holy, and Catholic from the days of the twelve apostles.
For Catholics, for would-be and will-be Catholics, the true line of advance is not the exercise of private judgment upon the Bible. This kind of approach invites only confusion, the emergence of sects innumerable. The history of Protestantism proves it.
To exercise private judgment to form an estimate of the significance of the four marks of the Catholic Church is well within the competence of private judgment. The marks are visible, palpable, tangible facts. As such, like all other facts of a prodigious or miraculous quality, they would seem to defy any natural or naturalistic explanation. Each mark in its own way is as marvelous as the Resurrection of Christ itself, with this difference, that we were not alive to witness the Resurrection but are alive to witness the four marks. Either we must judge them to be fortuitous or see the finger of God in them. If their existence has been brought about by chance, it is equivalent to saying that a bagful of alphabetical letters poured out by hazard would furnish in their disorder a formulated treatise.
The other alternative is to believe (with conviction) that God has preserved the Catholic Church in unity, sanctity, catholicity, and continuity for twenty centuries.
– J. Seymour Jonas
Salvation & Non-Catholics
Although the Catholic Church, in her unique life, has reached wonderfully far in time and space, it cannot be said that she has taught all men in all ages. Yet the principle “Outside the Church there is no salvation” is fully accepted by Catholics. What becomes of those millions of people, separated from her by the period or place in which they live or by lack of knowledge or any other circumstance beyond their control?
To become sons of God by grace and to know him intimately in heaven, men need baptism, for it is the rebirth into his family. Baptism is simple and remarkably universal. Anyone having the right intention and a little water can perform it, and anyone can receive it. This means of course that vast numbers of people outside the visible unity of the Church receive the life of grace through her first sacrament. Should they keep it securely through life, they will quite certainly see God in heaven.
Yet even this wide embrace leaves untouched great numbers of men and women who have never heard of Christian baptism or who have missed its significance.
In considering their position we must remind ourselves that Christ is the true light enlightening every man coming into the world. We know little of the subtle way in which he works upon the minds of those who do not know him. But it is certain that the man who welcomes his approach and admits him, even implicitly, would certainly seek baptism if he realized that it was divinely intended for him. And where the obstacle is lack of knowledge or anything else beyond his powers to remedy, Catholics believe that Christ brings the happy effects of baptism to him, and he receives what is known as the baptism of desire. Here we have a door which is closed to no man.
What of later falls from grace? The Catholic relies upon the sacrament of penance (confession) to deal with his failures after baptism. But many have missed, through no fault of their own, the enormous consolation of hearing a human voice declare, with authority, that their sins are forgiven. Even this loss does not mean that no mercy can reach them. It is a fact that sincere sorrow for sin, into which the love of God enters, really does restore the sinner. Where the sin is of a mortal nature, this sorrow needs to be based upon the pure love of God in himself. It is certain that God is utterly aware of the half-lights and shadows of the pagan mind. Infinite mercy, dealing with it, can make the fullest allowances and give and nurture all the fundamental faith and quality of contrition necessary to effect a perfect union with himself.
In the light of all this, how can it be maintained that outside the Church there is no salvation? The reply is two-fold: 1. Where Christ acts, the Church moves in him, for he is its head. 2. His action upon the individual soul tends to draw it to the Church as to its sheepfold. A man is saved in so far as he is a Catholic, according to the truth and the grace that is in him, not in despite of the Church, but to the extent of his living relationship with her.
Idolatry in all its forms is heartily condemned by Scripture. First, the setting up of the worship of high imaginary beings in the place of God, together with their images and altars, as with Baal, god of the sun, Ashtaroth, mistress of the moon, and Moloch, lord of fire. Second, the adoration of effigies as having in themselves power-“He made a god and adored it; he made a graven thing and bowed down before it” (Is. 44: 15). Third, the worship of an image as somehow representing God himself. When Aaron built an altar before the golden calf he declared a “solemnity of the Lord.”
Many Christians have assumed that all making and use of images in connection with religious worship ought to be avoided. Scripture itself is against this view. Representations of flowers, palm trees, and cherubim appeared in the Temple by command of God. The Ark of the Covenant, too, was surmounted by kneeling cherubim, whose extended wings formed the mercy-seat from which God spoke.
Reason would add to this that the use of the natural gifts of the artist and the sculptor in the worship of God could hardly be displeasing to the Author of nature, provided only that it encouraged devotion and cast no shadow of idolatry.
With all this in view, let us look inside a Catholic Church. There is probably a catechism in the book-rack, in which we can find the definite statement, “We do not pray to relics or images, for they can neither see, nor hear, nor help us.” Yet all around are pictures and statues of our Lord, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. We might add that this is no innovation, for frescoes of them appeared in the ancient catacombs in the first few centuries of the Christian era.
Are these pictures and statues idolatrous? Clearly they are not images of false gods, for that which they represent are known and reverenced by Christians generally. Neither do Catholics imagine that there is any magical quality in them or that their eyes can see us or their hands help us. The images of the saints are the likenesses of our friends-our very powerful friends, for in a very particular and intense manner they are the companions of God.
Finally, Catholics know that the supreme creative Spirit cannot be portrayed in wood or stone. Symbols of the Holy Trinity are symbols only and not intended as portraiture. The crucifix and figures of our Lord generally call for special remark.
God in his essence cannot be depicted. But when God became man he entered the world of art and sculpture. A human form can be modeled with skill, even if it is intended to represent the form of God made man. The old condition of affairs, in which God was infinitely removed from the finest work of brush and chisel, is now startlingly changed. As regards his divine nature, the position is unaltered, but he has embraced our nature and has entered the field of man’s artistic skill. He has now made himself available to us, and his artists must speak for him.
The Catholic religion is not merely a body of revealed truth, a formulation of moral laws, or a system of organized worship. At the center of it is devotion to a personal God made known to us by the God-Man Jesus Christ, exemplified in the lives of saints, many of whom testified to their devotion by the sacrifice of life itself.
The yearly cycle of the Church’s liturgy recites their fame; our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, Peter and Paul, Augustine and Ambrose, Francis and Dominic, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux and a host of others. They stimulate us by their teaching and example. Indeed, they are our friends. With familiar recourse to them we invoke their help because of their nearness to God and our common membership in the Body of Christ.
It is not therefore matter for surprise that we value anything connected with our Lord and his friends, particularly the places where they lived and died and were buried, the clothes they wore, and above all their bodily remains, once the temples of the Holy Ghost. Our Lord’s glorified Body is in heaven and so, we believe, is that of his Blessed Mother, but many relics of the saints are preserved by Catholic devotion.
To the Jew a dead body was the source of contamination. To the Christian the body of a saint is a precious reminder of the working in the world of the Word made flesh. Even to the Jew there were occasions when the legal prohibition of contact with a dead body was overruled by the sanctity of the soul that had inhabited it.
In 2 Kings it is related that, in the year of the death of the prophet Elisha, the country was being ravaged by freebooters from Moab. Some of these appeared suddenly, as a dead man was being carried to his funeral; the bearers took fright and threw the corpse into the first grave they could find. It was that of Elisha. No sooner had the dead man touched the prophet’s bones than he came to life again. The power of God, so often exercised through the living prophet, was there operating by means of his relics.
When the apostles burst upon the world with the staggering news of the God made man, miracles confirmed their message and the people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that when Peter came his shadow at least might fall upon some of them that they might be delivered from their infirmities (Acts 5:15). God wrought by the hand of Paul more than common miracles, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons were brought from his body to the sick; diseases parted from them, and the unclean spirits went out of them (Acts 19:12).
It will be seen that this Catholic practice needs no defense on scriptural grounds. It is a truly human instinct sanctified by Christian teaching and usage from the beginning.
Augustine of Hippo in his book The City of God (22:8) gives firsthand evidence of miracles worked through the use of relics. There is no doubt that the cultus of relics is a genuine manifestation of Christian devotion. The cross on which the Savior of the world hung for three hours has been an object of veneration from the earliest times, and fragments of the true cross are spread throughout the Catholic world.
It is true that doubt has been cast on the authenticity of certain relics of the cross. It has even been stated, rashly enough, that if all the alleged fragments of the true cross were brought together they would provide enough timber to make a battleship. This allegation was refuted in 1870 by Rohault de Fleury, who made an exhaustive catalogue of the known relics and estimated that they would form about a third of the capacity of a cross sufficiently substantial for its purpose.
It must be understood that no Catholic is bound to accept the authenticity of any relic if he has reason to doubt it. But the Church will not deny the right of the faithful to venerate a relic which has a long history behind it, even if the proofs of its genuineness might not satisfy an expert archaeologist.
No one will deny that the Catholic instinct for relics, in an uncritical age, provided ill-disposed persons with opportunity for lucrative fraud. However, in this as in other matters, the abuse of a good thing is no reason for its destruction.
The Council of Trent struck at the abuse, enacting stringent laws against those who trafficked in these sacred things and making it incumbent upon bishops, with final recourse to the Holy See, to exercise the greatest possible care in authorizing relics for public or private devotion.
Finally, it must be made clear that our veneration of the relics of our Lord and of the saints is directed to the persons with whom the material things were connected and all for the glory of God and the increase of devotion. That is its final justification.
-R. G. Flaxman
Man is a union of spirit and matter, body and soul, and, though this union is temporarily severed at death, it will be remade at the Last Day when the body is resurrected. Till then man, after death, is incomplete, being, even in heaven, a disembodied spirit whose perfection demands the return of his body, glorified and free from many limitations, but still his own body.
Since Almighty God, who made the universe out of nothing, can raise a handful of ashes or a pile of dust to the dignity of the body from which it was produced, the Catholic Church does not forbid cremation because it might make resurrection less possible. The resurrection of the body is an article of faith and will take place no matter how the body is treated after death. It is true that neo-pagans and agnostics, disbelieving in the immortality of the soul, often act as if burning the corpse annihilates the soul, and for this reason among others the Church forbids cremation because she condemns this despairing materialism.
The Church’s teaching about cremation is far more positive than a gesture of belief against a shrug of unbelief. It is rooted in her insistence on the dignity of man-man as God made him, not merely animal like other animals and not purely spirit like the angels, but a creation a good deal higher than the beasts and a little lower than the angels.
All our knowledge comes to us through the senses, and all our actions, for good or evil, are done through and with our bodies. Christ, who is God, used the body as a vessel through which his grace should reach the soul. The body is baptized in the sacrament of baptism and anointed in those of confirmation and extreme unction so that the soul may be reborn, strengthened, and fortified. Above all, in the Holy Eucharist, Christ himself comes to the soul through the body.
It is indeed not difficult to see why Paul called the body the temple of the Holy Ghost, and it should not surprise any intelligent man that the Church regards even a dead body as something that has been constantly sanctified and that must still have the splendor of the sacraments lingering in it.
It is not always easy to convince non-Catholics, who do not accept our beliefs and who are worried, not without reason, that cemeteries are becoming overcrowded, that the Church’s ban on cremation is wise and necessary. We should remind them of the centuries-old tradition known and followed by the first Christians.
In the past many, though not all, pagans burnt corpses. The Jews, the earliest believers in the one God, buried their dead with love and reverence. It was among them that our Lord lived and among them and by them he was buried. The Incarnation, the taking of a human body and making it wholly and utterly his, by Almighty God made for ever all human bodies something wonderful and worthy of reverence.
Of course in times of plague it might be necessary for the dead to be burnt. And the Church could, at any other time, allow cremation.[In an instruction to bishops dated May 8,1963, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith relaxed the strictures against cremation, while reaffirming the Church’s preference for burial. Cremation is permissible “for serious reasons” and when there is no intent to show contempt for the Church or religion. Special requirements apply, and the remains are still to be placed in consecrated ground.] God does not forbid such disposal, but since he made the human body an integral part of human nature and redeemed both it and the human soul through his own human Body and Soul, the Church he founded must take every safeguard to prevent the dignity and honor which he gave to us from being belittled or thrown away.
– Vera Telfer