Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Historical Apologetics @ Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Homiletic & Pastoral Review, which recently went to a web-only format, published an article I submitted on "Knowing Enough History to Defend It: Catholic History and Apologetics":
While many seem to disregard the study of history as a wasteful pastime, events in Catholic Church history are often used to attack us. Based on ignorance, prejudice, or confusion, people know, or think they know, something about our Church’s past that is scandalous, cruel, or just bad. They use this misinformation or some distorted view of an event to attack the Church’s credibility on current moral issues, as if to say an institution that can perpetrate such misdeeds in the past can’t tell me what to do with my body (artificial birth control, abortion, fornication, etc.); it can’t tell me what’s right and what’s wrong.
Catholics should be prepared with at least a brief reply to commonly cited events and issues in the Church’s two millennia past. In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, we need to be Catholics “who know so much of history that (we) can defend it.” We might not be able to change someone’s mind when she asks us about why the Church was so mean to Galileo, but at least we can demonstrate that we know our history. If she’s not willing to listen to a dissertation-length explanation, a few points might help her understand better. The fact that we know may impress her, open the door to more friendly conversation, and grant an opportunity to witness the reason for our joy in being Catholic. This article offers some guidelines and hints for answering these historical questions.
Please read the rest there. I meant for it to be a survey of helpful hints on answering common questions about Church History, inspired by Blessed John Henry Newman. If you want to read the original--that is, Blessed John Henry Newman--on Church History, you should peruse the five letters he wrote to John Rickards Mozley, his nephew. When Newman speaks about the "light" side of the Catholic Church, he is much more eloquent than I am:
But leaving the highest and truest outcome of the Catholic Church and descending to history, certainly I would maintain firmly, with most writers on the Evidences, that, as the Church has a dark side, so (as you do not seem to admit) it has a light side also, and that its good has been more potent and permanent and evidently intrinsic to it than its evil. Here, of course, we have to rely on the narrative of historians, if we have not made a study of original documents ourselves. It would be a long business (assuming their correctness), but an easy business too, to show how Christianity has raised the moral standard, tone, and customs of human society; and it must be recollected that for 1500 years Christianity and the Catholic Church are in history identical. The care and elevation of the lower classes, the championship of the weak against the powerful, the abolition of slavery, hospitals, the redemption of captives, education of children, agriculture, literature, the cultivation of the virtues of piety, devotion, justice, charity, chastity, family affection, are all historical monuments of the influence and teaching of the Church. Turn to the non-Catholic historians, to Gibbon, Voigt, Hurter, Guizot, Ranke, Waddington, Bowden, Milman, and you will find that they agree in their praises, as well as in their accusations, of the Catholic Church. Guizot says that Christianity would not have weathered the barbarism of the Middle Age but for the Church. Milman says almost or altogether the same. Neander sings the praises of the monks. Hurter was converted by his historical researches. Ranke shows how the Popes fought against the savageness of the Spanish Inquisition. Bowden brings out visibly how the cause of Hildebrand was the cause of religion and morals. If in the long line there be bad as well as good Popes, do not forget that long succession, continuous and thick, of holy and heroic men, all subjects of the Popes, and most of them his direct instruments in the most noble and serviceable and most various works, and some of them Popes themselves, such as Patrick, Leo, Gregory, Augustine, Boniface, Columban, Alfred, Wulstan, Queen Margaret of Scotland, Louis IX., Vincent Ferrer, Las Casas, Turibius, Xavier, Vincent of Paul—all of whom, as multitudes besides, in their day were the life of religion.
And when he answers his nephew's questions about the St. Bartholomew Day's Massacre and the "bad" popes, Newman is direct and "unapologetic" with his apologetics:
I think such insane acts as St. Bartholomew's Massacre were prompted by mortal fear. The French Court considered (rightly or wrongly) that if they did not murder the Huguenots, the Huguenots would murder them. Thus I explain Pope Gregory's hasty approbation of so great a crime, without waiting to hear both sides. After a period of luxury and sloth, the sudden outburst of the Reformation frightened the Court of Rome out of its wits, and there were those who thought the one thing needful was to put it down anyhow, as the destruction, at least eventually, of all religion, morality, and society. Perhaps they were right in this fear; and thus they got mixed up with mere politicians, unscrupulous men, and became in the eyes of posterity answerable for deeds which were not properly theirs. I was reading the other day a defence of Pius V. against Lord Acton, the point of which was that in no sense was it the Pope who sanctioned the plot for assassinating Elizabeth, but, the Duke of Alva. Yet who can deny, true as this may be, still that to readers of history the Pope and the Duke are in one boat? Then, again, their agents, or the sovereigns who sought their sanction for certain courses or measures, went far beyond the intention of the Popes, who nevertheless, from their political entanglements, could not resume the powers that they had once given over to them. A large society, such as the Church, is necessarily a political power, and to touch politics is to touch pitch. A private Catholic is not answerable for the Pope's political errors, any more than the shareholder in a railway in 1875 is answerable for the railway's accidents in 1860, nay, or in 1875.
You say that at least the Popes ought publicly to confess, when it is proved they have gone wrong. Does Queen Victoria confess the sins of George IV.? Do principals feel it generous to abandon their subordinates, or loyal children acquiesce in attacks on their parents? As to controversialists, they are pleaders at a bar, and are afraid to make admissions lest these should be turned against them. To speak out is in the long run the wisest, the most expedient, the most noble policy; seldom the possible, or the natural. Why are private memoirs kept back from publication for thirty or sixty years? No party can be kept together if there is no reticence. But in fact, except among controversialists, there is no want of candour and frankness among us; witness the fact that Protestant attacks on us generally are drawn from the admissions of Catholics. Baronius, writing under the Pope's eye, speaks in the strongest terms of the evil state of the Popedom in the dark age; Rinaldus, his continuator, speaks against Alexander VI.; St. Bernard, St. Thomas, and many others speak against the conduct of the Roman See in their own times. So do Pope Adrian VI., Paul IV., &c. So do holy women in their writings, such as St. Bridget.