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What Online Catholic Apologists are Missing

Introduction

The goal of the Medieval Scholastic was to have “faith seeking understanding.” This phrase is often misunderstood to mean some sort of vain fideism, where the intellect takes no place in the ascent of faith. Others, falling into the opposite extreme, will place the foundation of our faith in the natural use of our intellect. Both are pernicious errors.

This phrase has a much deeper import than either of those two options or what is commonly understood. It becomes an impenetrable bulwark of the faith and an effective tool of conversion when adequately understood.

Dogmatics and Scholastics

To understand what it means and why this even applies to a certain lack found in online Catholic apologetics, I’ll have to explain a fundamental distinction in theological method. First, in theology, we may be concerned with “that x is,” this is called “positive” or “dogmatic” theology. An example is St. Thomas’ Summa Contra Gentiles, where he spends a great deal of time considering arguments of reason, scripture, and tradition for a certain proposition.

Second, in theology, we may be concerned with “what/why x is,” this is called “scholastic” theology. In this, we seek to investigate the inner logic of the faith, how various doctrines fit together, and show the beauty of the faith as a fruit of long contemplation on the Divine Mysteries. An example is St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica, where St. Thomas is not as much concerned with doing Dogmatics. Here, the Sed Contra is brief, and many find it lacking, yet, the respondeo is where the theological work exists.

To illustrate, in the building of a Cathedral, the Dogmatician takes the role of the various skilled laborers, taking stone and chiseling it into the parts of the Cathedral. On the other hand, the Scholastic is the architect of the Cathedral, taking what those under him have handed him and forming a great work of beauty. Certainly, the Dogmatician is needed, yet, few have been awestruck by a deconstructed Cathedral waiting to be assembled by the wise man.

On the Nature of Conversion

How does this relate back to Catholic apologetics? To connect the two, we need to think back to the nature of conversion. Conversion to the faith is not as straightforward as “argument x convinced me,” Msgr. Fenton points out that if this were the case, then those who were simple and ignorant would have the weakest faith, which is the opposite. This is confirmed by experience. When I came to be convinced by Catholicism, it wasn’t a matter of a “final argument” that “did me in.” Instead, it was a mystical encounter of love wherein my disposition towards those intellectual objects of the faith was transformed.

In being convinced of most things, while we would like to believe that we are detached rationalists, chopping logic to solve all our issues, most of the time, there is a certain “radiance of being” that captures and enraptures us to the object before us. Browne highlights this, for most men “a piece of Rhetorick is a sufficient argument of Logick; an Apologue of Esop, beyond a syllogysme in Barbara; parables than propositions, and proverbs more powerful than demonstrations.”

Yet, Browne calls this a “vulgar error” when separated from reason. On the other hand, argument without beauty is impotent, as I have illustrated above. They must be fused as matter and form to convince effectively. [1] This is what Scholasticism does to the mind. Scholasticism dives into the nature of things and shows the beautiful harmony and consistency of things. This is able to impress upon the mind in a much stronger manner than Dogmatics can. I have often found that many who I have spoken to concerning Catholic doctrine are more convinced by having me show the consistency and beauty of a certain doctrine of the faith, the fittingness of the doctrine, than watching countless hours of Catholic Answers episodes, dozens of online debates, and collections of patristic citations. Many spend countless hours slogging through argument and counter-argument, left in a position of absolute epistemic nihilism. For myself, I was much more convinced by St. Bellarmine’s natural law argument for the Papacy than I ever was watching yet another video on the nature of the rock in Matthew’s gospel.

To strengthen our defense of the faith, we must transition from “faith seeking proof” to “faith seeking understanding, the “that” to the “what/why.” Scheeben’s The Mysteries of Christianity is more likely to convince one of the faith than Horn’s Case for Catholicism, even though the latter has this express purpose.

Pedagogy and Apologetics

Apologetics is the first catechesis. In theological education, we may distinguish the “object” of theology and the “habit” of theology. The former is knowing theological truths, and the latter is being a theologian. In the modus operandi of most contemporary apologetics, the former is focused on, to the detriment of the latter, by viewing the task of the apologist as one who can memorize and spit out arguments. Scholasticism, on the other hand, is able to form certain habits of theological thinking where one can contemplate and come to love and understand the truth.

Apologetics, in turn, may be rephrased as the encounter between two persons wherein the apologist guides the mind of the listener to the contemplation of truth. Thus, in thinking of the best apologists, Socrates, in the masterful dialogues he takes part in, takes pride of place (yet, as an apologist for nature, not grace). Such dialogues are in the realm of scholastics, able to understand, not memorized proof texts, but the thing itself and the various connections of the thing to bring the mind of the listener to contemplate the truth in loving adoration, not merely to berate the listener with unsynthesized proof texts. The later mode of argumentation will cease to be convincing the moment the listener hears the other side; as Proverbs says, “He who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Prov. 18:17) Concerning the former, the martyr will die before being drawn away from such contemplation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I seek to remedy this problem, not by becoming an “apologist” (I am not the guy for such a role) but by uniquely providing the role of a scholastic (if I can dare call myself one). Thus, to highlight this specification of vision, I will be separating “The Militant Thomist” (which will become a personal name which you can call me by) from the “official” name of the apostolate, which will be “Scholastic Answers.”

If you would be interested in supporting such a project, please consider becoming a Patron (www.patreon.com/MilitantThomist ), donating on PayPal (MilitantThomist@gmail.com) or on Cashapp ($CBWagner7x).




[1] Before continuing, it must be noted that, due to the absolute supernaturality of the ascent of faith, even this is not sufficient. Arguments, rather than bringing about faith, are used by the Holy Spirit to dispose us to more heartily be infused with the gift of faith. This knowledge is assumed by the author.

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