As a budding (and quite amateur) apologist, I’m constantly looking for new methods to develop my ability to connect with others about the Catholic faith. Many methods I’ve adopted involve developing my “soft” skills, of which I owe a debt of gratitude to men like Patrick Madrid who taught me that not only does one need to know the faith, one must know how to share the faith with the way they communicate. Lately though, my focus has been on memorizing a few chains of bible verses to help begin laying out an argument. As expected, it’s been a challenge recalling these passages in an actual apologetic conversation where the pressure is on and I’m time-constrained.
So when I came across the book on a Catholic website, “Memorize the Reasons! Defending the Faith with the Catholic Art of Memory,” I was immediately curious and picked up a copy. I’d like to share the strategy that the author proposes in helping us memorize and chain together thoughts into useful apologetic tools.
Dr. Kevin Vost, a former psychology professor with credentials in the study of human intelligence, argues that an ancient Greek memorization method, the method of loci, can be a key ally in our efforts to share and defend the faith. This method employs stock visual images ordered in such a way that the memory is aided in remembering unique facts in a coherent order. Dr. Vost, in one example, uses the façade of a church, complete with its statues, stained-glass, and bell-tower as a set of stock images. He then applies particular points he wants to memorize to those stock images. For example, in trying to memorize key support points for the primacy of Peter, he suggests using his first stock image—the piazza in front of the church—and imagining a gigantic stone rock laying in the center of it. Visualize it in detail. I picture it so big, that it blocks the front stairs of the church, and one almost has to look around it to see the main church doors. The more ludicrous the image, the better you’ll remember it. From there, the method would have you change focus to your next stock image, the stairs, the doors, the stained glass, the statues, and so forth, applying something a bit odd to each of them. Maybe the statue is wearing shoes, maybe the door has a deep crack spanning its length, etc.
Lets say you we’re reading Patrick Madrid’s Answer Me This, and came across his arguments for the Catholic teaching of baptismal regeneration. You want to memorize two key scripture verses that he provides, as well as one comment from a Doctor of the Church. Your first action is to select your stock location, the canvas in which you will paint your ideas on. Experience taught me to select places with distinct images, ones you will certainly remember, but not somewhere that is cluttered with images (e.g. a supermarket with all its aisles, products, people, etc.). My favorite stock location is the inside of an empty church. My three stock images will be a baptismal font, the statue of Mary, and my priest standing at the lectern. Now we’ll apply the ideas I want to memorize to those stock images.
Picture Christ with eyes closed, laying under the water in the baptismal font (a large baptismal font), facing upwards towards us. His skin looks cold and lifeless, and he still bears the crown of thorns. A well-built roman soldier dressed in golden military garb, grasping a large spear stands next to the font, looking stern (referring to the Book of Romans). This image reminds us that in the Book of Romans, Paul says:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (6:3-4)
There is more to this passage, but for brevity’s sake, we’ll stop here. Let’s move our minds now to the statue of Mary in the front of the church. Picture a line of parishioners forming in front of the Blessed Virgin, while she holds a brightly colored, square box covered in wrapping paper. The wrapping paper is baby blue dappled with yellow circles, and is tied off with a perfect-looking bow. Oddly enough, next to Mary, in the marble of the church walls, there is an axe (referring to the Book of Acts) with the blade half-way into the marble hanging there (maybe someone wasn’t happy with the present they got). This image reminds us of a passage in the Book of Acts:
Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (2:38)
Finally, let’s picture my priest standing with Matthew the Apostle, having an argument with former first-lady, Hillary Clinton. He is so upset that he accidentally spills (or was it accidental?) his glass of water all over her. Promptly afterwards, a dove flies down from the rafters and lands Matthew’s head. This final example reminds us that St. Hilary of Poiters said:
Everything that happened to Christ lets us know that, after the bath of water, the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high heaven and that, adopted by the Father’s voice, we become sons of God (On Matthew, 2, 5).
Take a moment, and see if you can first walk yourself through my images again. Then, give it another shot, and see if you can connect the images to the ideas you wanted to memorize.
This is by no means an instantaneous memorization tool. It takes practice generating and memorizing the stock images, as well as applying the key ideas to each of them. However, once you have a stock location built, you can use it over and over again for different chains of ideas, and the process becomes a bit easier. A word of advice: You probably thought my examples were strange, but I’ve found that the stranger you can make them, the quicker they are retrieved from memory. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the book I referenced above which walks you through many more scenarios, and in far more detail than I’ve gone into here.
I know many of you reading this are accomplished apologists, and I invite you to post any advice or any methods you’ve found key to your success in the comments section below. We amateur apologists take all the advice we can get!
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.