Apologetics is a Greek word compounded from apo and logos, meaning “to give a reason for.” St. Peter uses it in his first epistle: “But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason (apologian) of that hope which is in you” (3:15). Some of the Fathers of the Church called the treatises that they wrote in defense of the Catholic Faith “apologiae.”
Definition (Father Hardon’s, modified): “The science that aims to explain and justify religious doctrine. It shows the reasonableness of such doctrine in the face of the objections offered by those who refuse to accept Catholicism. Also called fundamental theology as the science that establishes the credibility of Christian revelation on the evidence of miraculous phenomena and the testimony of unbiased history.
The Do's and Don'ts of Apologetics
- listen to the other person. It is more important that you really understand where they are coming from and try to meet them at that place, than it is that you find the perfect answer to a supposed question. Nobody likes a one-sided conversation.
- remain calm.
- trust that God can work in your inadequacies, because that is all we have to offer.
- try and find common ground to build upon.
- speak the truth – but for the right reasons. The best reason to speak the truth is out of a genuine love for the other person and their welfare.
- be kind. As St. Peter says – “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear.” -1 Peter 3: 15-16
- ask probing questions. Try to find out not only what they believe, but try to guide them to where you want them to go. This is called the “Socratic Method” of dialogue. It asks probing questions in order to guide the other person into the truth. Peter Kreeft has written numerous books using this method and they might help you get used to using it.
- be as charitable as possible. Try to always think about the good of the other person.
- build on the faith or goodness the person shows you. We are not in the business of tearing others down.
- ask if they have any prayer intentions and then ask if they want to pray for you right then and there. It can be a powerful witness to pray with someone.
- try to win an argument. Archbishop Sheen once said “Win an argument, lose a soul.” I agree.
- allow the conversation to wander from topic to topic. Stay on one topic until you exhaust it.
- get upset. Your emotions might boil, but allowing someone else to see frustration, anger, etc. won’t help.
- allow your pride to get the best of you. Even if it seems you have no answer, know that the Church does or that you need to continue to grow in knowledge. Humility is a gift.
- speak about what you don’t know about. “I Don’t know” is a great answer. But, follow that up with an invitation to get together again and talk after you do your homework on the subject.
- give up hope.
- over-explain yourself. Too much of a good thing is still too much.
- use too much churchy lingo. Try and explain and define your words and phrases – even basic ones you might assume others know (e.g. faith, hope, love, grace, salvation, savior, prayer, etc.).