As Catholics, we have a necessary commitment to spread the Word of God and make disciples of all the nations, lest we forget the Great Commission. An evangelist, deriving from the Greek (transliterated) eu meaning good and angelia meaning message, is literally someone who spreads the good message of the Gospel.
What makes a good evangelist though? I would argue the best evangelists are the best apologists. In the Greek, apologia, means to give a reasoned defense was the legal defense, complete with evidence that would support one’s position. Consider for a moment that the Devil in the Greek is diabolos, which means slanderer or accuser. When we become apologists, we see this as a defense against our accuser, the devil, and as a reasoned defense goes, we must be able to articulate not only what we believe, but why we believe it.
Today, apologists are needed more than ever to defend the Faith. So what makes a good reasoned defense of the Faith? Well, certainly an understanding of Sacred Scripture, as well as knowledge of the Church Fathers, but also a good grasp of philosophy should be in the apologist’s arsenal. On the Dead Philosophers Society logo you see the words Faith and Reason, Fides et Ratio, and the Church understands these two principles to be mutually beneficial and complimentary. The movement in secular society to hold faith and reason in opposition to one another is a byproduct of modern man’s inability to synthesize principles which differ in approach.
Philosophy, which literally means “love of wisdom,” differs in its approach to fundamental questions from that of Theology as a discipline. Philosophy assumes no direct revelation from God, while Theology, presupposing not only God’s existence, but also that knowledge can come through revelation would answer the same questions in a very different way. One might look for a theological answer to, “Does God exist”, and find that the lives of those who have had revelatory experiences are valid, or that the Bible, as the inspired Word of God tells us that God exists is perfectly valid. Philosophy, approaching the question without such assumptions, would look to answer the question by means of human reason.
Given this distinction, some might ask how philosophy can answer the questions which theology grapples with then, such as an explanation of the Trinity, or the Incarnation. The short answer is that it cannot. How often is it that we find ourselves fighting over doctrinal issues in the current spiritual war though? I find myself debating with far more atheists than I do Gnostics, and as such appeal to arguments from Aristotle more often than I quote Scripture. I’m not trying to downplay the importance of theology, nor Scripture, but as a starting point, in the current culture war, appealing to the Word of God to prove God’s existence seems like a moot point.
Philosophy, for those who have not studied it formally can seem daunting. Scratch that – It is daunting. Philosophy has gone places neither wise nor loving. I don’t think that reading Heidegger is going to give you a better grasp on defending theism, but Aristotle might. One of the critiques of Christianity that I run into constantly with atheists, is that it doesn’t appeal to reason. Most of the atheists that I’ve met have prided themselves on being ‘intellectuals’, not persuaded by ‘sentimentalism’ that affects believers. Subsequently, it is important that we meet them on their own ground, leveling the playing field, this way we are able to make assertions that are not dismissed before being uttered.
Apologetics, a reasoned defense of the faith must not just be a reasoned defense of the doctrines of faith but also of faith in God itself. Through the study of philosophy we not only become better apologists, but also become more sure-footed in our own faith. For those unsure of where to start, here are just a few summaries of different important philosophical proofs for the existence of God. After reading through these, if you are still interested and want to deepen your understanding of philosophy in the context of religion I would recommend the excellent book by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler, How to Think About God: A Guide for the 20th Century Pagan.
- Aristotle’s Prime Mover
- Aquinas’ Five Ways
- Aquinas’ Theodicy
- Paley’s Design Argument
- Aquinas’ S.T. P1 Q2
- Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.