Catholicism and Fundamentalism — Food for the Mind

KARL KEATING

Keating's book provides an impressively researched and eminently readable defense of Catholicism against the critical attacks of fundamentalists.

The prospective apologist needs thorough preparation, both in answering specific questions and in preparing a stronger general foundation for his own faith. The books discussed in this chapter will transform an average Catholic whose gut feelings are right into one who not only knows the answers to the questions that used to stump him, but now can pass on his newfound learning in a way that others, far more confused than he ever was, can understand. These books are not the only ones worthy of study, of course, but they have proved particularly useful in the specialized task of dealing with fundamentalist attacks on the Catholic religion.1

In what order these books will be read will depend largely on one's predispositions. Some can be taken up and put down at leisure; reading in snatches is quite sufficient. Others need to be read in a more sustained fashion — not in one evening necessarily, assuming that is even possible for people not afflicted with insomnia, but over a short period of time. One needs to set aside time daily so the first chapter is not forgotten by the time the last is reached. Just as the story line can be lost if one puts down a novel for any length of time, so the overall picture some of these books were designed to give will not be apprehended if one dallies in reading them.

Some of the material will have to be gone over more than once — you will want to read some things several times, just for your own enjoyment — and even then, after all this work, you will still need access to other, more detailed works, such as the Catholic Encyclopedia (the preferred 1914 edition, available through Catholic used-book dealers) or the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967 edition, inferior in coverage but adequate).

The Catholic unsure of his intellectual stamina should not be scared off. He does not have to try to devour the whole pie. Much good can be done, both for oneself and for non-Catholics, by getting the basics, by reading only the key works. (Anyone who would read the whole of an encyclopedia is an undiscriminating pedant and would never make it as an apologist!)2

Keep in mind that it is not enough to have absorbed general overviews of Catholicism, however good they might be. That will not prepare you to withstand a barrage of criticism. You will wilt under the onslaught of specific and often surprising questions, each of which needs to be handled if people confused about the Faith are to have their doubt cleared up. The trouble is that writers of surveys of Catholicism do not ask tough questions or put you on the spot. That is not their purpose. They presume you are predisposed to the Faith and are seeking to broaden your knowledge generally. That is admirable and necessary, but you can have a general grasp yet be unable to say anything sensible to fundamentalists when they question you, because their questions throw you for a loop. You will rarely guess correctly how they will phrase their accusations, because your presuppositions are different. It takes a Catholic considerable training and a long tenure in the school of hard knocks to begin to think like a fundamentalist, to pose the kinds of questions fundamentalists pose.

To get a feel for what you would be up against, particularly if you want to do apologetics work on a serious basis, you need to see just what fundamentalists say about the Church — and in their own words. Write to anti-Catholic organizations (see the Appendix for addresses) and request sample literature. Some Catholics hesitate doing this. They cannot bear giving professional anti-Catholics a penny. They think doing so is almost treasonous. The feeling is understandable, but it is a matter of false scruples. If you were a military commander and your counterpart on the other side had written a book outlining his tactical theories, you would be wise to let him have the royalties and get a copy of his book into your hands as soon as possible. You would owe it to your cause.

So write away for anti-Catholic literature, study it, and learn on which topics you need help, but do not limit yourself to acquiring tracts. No collection of anti-Catholic material would be complete without a copy of Loraine Boettner's Roman Catholicism.3 Many Protestant bookstores carry it; if it cannot be found on the shelves, it can be ordered through them or through any other bookstore. Although a fat hardback, it is cheap, and some fundamentalist and evangelical bookstores carry it at a good discount over the already-low cover price, perhaps a prime reason it has been disseminated so widely.


The core of many arguments, historical or otherwise, will be the Bible, and the apologist needs to be at ease with it. Fundamentalists often work on the principle that the Bible is such a straight-forward book that any literate person can pick it up and, without much trouble, find the correct interpretation of any passage, presuming he has been “born again”. Those not reborn, in the fundamentalists' sense of the term, have no guarantee they will arrive at the right understanding.


To get a feel for what you would be up against, particularly if you want to do apologetics work on a serious basis, you need to see just what fundamentalists say about the Church — and in their own words. Write to anti-Catholic organizations (see the Appendix for addresses) and request sample literature.


Fundamentalists think the intervening centuries have not made the Bible any more confusing for us than it was for people who lived in New Testament times, and they think that way (although they do not realize it) because they begin, not with the Bible, but with an accepted set of beliefs, which they then substantiate by “searching the Scriptures”.

The truth is that the Bible is both an easy and a difficult book. It is easy in its language — no jargon or bureaucratese here — but it is difficult in that it is not really one book, but six dozen books composed over centuries for a variety of reasons and audiences. No sacred writer thought, as he sat down with pen and papyrus, that he was adding the nth chapter to a single book in the way that, some years ago, there was a fad among writers of detective stories to compose books each chapter of which was by a different author and was built directly on the chapters preceding.4 No, the Bible is better thought of as a miscellany. The New Testament alone has several kinds of writings: four partially overlapping biographies, something at once a history and a travelogue, private letters written to individuals and open ones written to small communities, and an example of a peculiar kind of literature, the apocalyptic. The same goes for the Old Testament, which contains still other kinds of works: law codes, prophetic utterances, poetry, even an extended love song.

The Catholic needs to read the Bible, of course, and to read it regularly, but that is hardly enough. He needs also works that will make up for time lost, that will give him insights that he might reach only after decades of assiduous and prayerful reading of the sacred text, and he needs an appreciation of the background of the Bible, of the kinds of works it contains, and of methods and theories of interpretation. Only when he has this will his Bible reading turn truly fruitful.

The first thing, then, after securing one or more translations of the Bible itself, to buy is a commentary. Still available from used-book dealers is A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture,5 published in Britain in 1953 and using the Douay-Rheims translation.

The editorial committee was headed by Bernard Orchard, and contributors included such men as B.C. Butler, Thomas Corbishley, C.C. Martindale, E.C. Messenger, and Hugh Pope.6 In addition to commentaries on individual books of the Bible, this work includes thirty-five articles introducing the Old and New Testaments and examining such topics as the synoptic problem, the various texts and versions of the Bible, proper interpretation, inspiration and inerrancy, and the geography and history of Israel.

In 1969 appeared A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture,7 using the Revised Standard Version instead of the Douay-Rheims. About a fifth of the original edition was carried over, as were several of the original contributors. The new edition is superior in some ways (for example, it takes into account real advances in biblical scholarship), but it may not appeal to everyone in other ways.

As a substitute or supplement one should consider The Jerome Biblical Commentary,8 first published in 1968 and since updated and stocked by most Catholic bookstores. Although this American commentary is not as trustworthy as its British counterparts, it is still worth having, and the orthodox Catholic can skip the more tendentious essays. After all, when it comes to comments on individual books of the Bible, as distinguished from article giving overviews of the Pentateuch or the life of Christ, there is little room for foolery. In any event, do not be put off by being unable to locate an ideal commentary, since there is no such thing.

Newer than the latest commentaries is William G. Most's Free from All Error.9 Most, known for his orthodoxy and willingness to engage modernists in verbal combat, examines the authorship, inerrancy, and historicity of Scripture. In this book, which is not a replacement for but a fine addition to a commentary, he devotes separate chapters to Genesis, the infancy narratives, apocalyptic books, and wisdom literature. He examines the historical-critical method of scriptural interpretation, the prejudices of form and redaction critics, and how we determine which books are inspired and belong in the Bible and which are not and do not.


Also worth having are two books by John Steinmueller, the three-volume Companion to Scripture Studies10 and The Sword of the Spirit.11 The first volume of the Companion discussed inspiration, the canon of the Bible, texts and versions, and hermeneutics. It considers the history of exegesis in the ancient, medieval, and modern periods and biblical antiquities, which include sacred places (such as the temples of Solomon, Zorobabel, and Herod), sacred persons, sacred rituals, and even sacred seasons, and it closes with a chapter on the geography of the Holy Land.


There are two problems here. First, most of the ecclesiastical history fundamentalists know is wrong, being little more than vague prejudices mixed with scraps of pseudolearning. Few of them, though, have any reason to doubt that what has been handed down to them (part of their “tradition”, in a way) is the real story of the Catholic Church.


The second volume covers the Old Testament, while the third covers the New. Each book of the Bible is considered, but not in the manner of a commentary. Steinmueller does not use a verse-by-verse approach. Typically, after giving a bibliography, he presents an outline of a book, then devotes a few paragraphs to its author, origin, intended audience, and special aims. In the third volume each book of the New Testament is given more space than could be given in the second volume to each of the Old, and there is a fine analysis of the synoptic problem and a useful, if unhappily too short, life of Christ.

The Sword of the Spirit covers the meaning, inspiration, authors, and canon of the Bible, biblical theology, the history of the Bible, and conflicting views in modern biblical scholarship. It might be read before turning to a commentary or the more daunting Companion.

Steinmueller's pages on early English versions of the Bible will be a disappointment to fundamentalists who pick up The Sword of the Spirit, most of them having a sense that the King James Version was the first in English (and some of them believing it was in fact the original version), because he shows English translations long predated the Reformation. Catholics new to the history of the Bible will benefit from this discussion, although for the full story one needs to turn to Hugh Pope's English Versions of the Bible,12 which examines at greater length than one might think possible all the translations to the twentieth century.

Another handy work is Henri Daniel-Rops' Daily Life in the Time of Jesus.13 This supplement to the commentaries is an extended and readable examination of the society of first-century Palestine. Discussed are the class structure, personal cleanliness, arts and science, occupations, the Jewish family, the city of Jerusalem, and much more, in a text the cover blurb rightly calls “a masterful synthesis of the complex array of the economic, political, and cultural currents of the pivotal era of human history.” It is the kind of book the apologist will want to reach for when his discussions with fundamentalists involve interpreting Scripture in light of its own time.


Fundamentalists do not argue against the Church merely from Scripture, limiting themselves to events of the first century. They also decry later Catholic “inventions” and what they consider to be the universally sorry history of the universal Church. The more knowledgeable among them bring up specific historical points — the Inquisition, the “bad Popes”, abuses leading up to the Reformation — and expect Catholics to be able to explain how such enormities could proceed from the Church Christ established.

There are two problems here. First, most of the ecclesiastical history fundamentalists know is wrong, being little more than vague prejudices mixed with scraps of pseudolearning. Few of them, though, have any reason to doubt that what has been handed down to them (part of their “tradition”, in a way) is the real story of the Catholic Church.

The second problem is that, although some of the history they have is accurate, at least in the bare sense of dates and names, they have no grasp of what that history means. Their basic problem, of course, is that their own religion is frozen in apostolic times. They fail to see that the true Faith may alter its appearance, although not its content, as the centuries pass, and that later events can shed light on earlier, just as the New Testament allows a deeper appreciation of the Old; and they forget, it seems, that Christianity, although not of the world, is certainly in it. From decades of refusing to examine events with a critical mind, their instincts have become antihistorical.

Fundamentalists rightly note that priestly celibacy became mandatory only in the Middle Ages, but they have no feel for the process leading up to the rule and so conclude it was instituted out of the blue. They know Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 and they have been told his Edict of Milan precipitated the rise of the Catholic Church, but they know little of the shape of Christianity in the years immediately preceding or following Constantine's rule. They envision distinctively Catholic practices, such as auricular confession and the use of Latin, as popping out of nowhere, and this bothers them no end — as it should, if their historical outlook were true.

The only way to overcome these stumbling blocks — and that is just what so much of Catholicism is when not understood in itself — is for the Catholic apologist to be able to take each historical question and find an answer, putting the issue in context, first showing what really happened, then integrating the facts with what his fundamentalist questioner already knows, thus giving him the broad picture. This can cause endless headaches, of course, and sometimes it is either impossible or not worth trying to accomplish, but often it is crucial.

Most fundamentalists embrace only one or two historical squabbles with gusto, and, if their confusions about them can be cleared up — and it may take very little effort to do that — they will be open to learning about the Faith. They will then be receptive to talk about the other historical complaints they have, the ones on which they do not stake their reputations. A few fundamentalists have so many questions and know so much that is not so, that one cannot hope to satisfy them, no matter how much homework is done, no matter how many citations are given, no matter how many pages from history texts are photocopied and sent off with explanatory cover letters. A hundred matters can be settled to their grudging satisfaction, but, hydralike, two hundred more will arise. These people can be touched only by grace, not by anything the Catholic apologist can do. They revel in their confusion and would be lost if they did not have a full bag of complaints concerning the history of the Church.


A hundred matters can be settled to their grudging satisfaction, but, hydralike, two hundred more will arise. These people can be touched only by grace, not by anything the Catholic apologist can do. They revel in their confusion and would be lost if they did not have a full bag of complaints concerning the history of the Church.


Yet they are a small minority of fundamentalists, most of whom can be approached on the level of history, most of whom would welcome serious historical discussions (which is not to say, by any means, that one needs to be a certified historian to speak with them). To enter such discussions, whether on the lecture platform, in a Bible-study class, or around the cracker barrel, the Catholic needs, in addition to a thick skin, a good grounding in Church history. He does not need to have on the tip of his tongue an answer to every question, although there are a few standard complaints for which he indeed will have set replies. He needs to be able to look up answers in handy reference works, ones that are really useful for his purposes. When he tells a fundamentalist that he will get back with the answer in a few days, he needs to be able to do just that. Not to get back with an answer because one does not have on hand the right books means, to a suspicious interlocutor, that there is no answer to his charge.

Some of the best historical works are no longer in print, such as Newman Eberhardt's A Summary of Catholic History,14 Fernand Mourret's A History of the Catholic Church,15 and Henri Daniel-Rops' History of the Church of Christ.16 An especially promising venture is Warren Carroll's six-volume project titled A History of Christendom.17 At this writing incomplete, the series can be highly recommended as orthodox, temperate, detailed, and accurate. Another fine history is Philip Hughes' History of the Church.18 This three-volume set takes the story to the time of Luther. Hughes was unable to finish the planned fourth volume, but that does not matter much, since most questions fundamentalists have about Catholic history concern matters in the early centuries and in the Middle Ages.

Published concurrently with Hughes' three-volume set was a one-volume abridgment, A Popular History of the Catholic Church.19 It carries the story to 1946, and, although pre-Reformation topics are handled more concisely than in the larger work, the book gives the reader new to Church history a surprisingly satisfying overview of events. For the first time there is a real connection between the history of the first years of the Church, as found in the New Testament, and the history one has lived through. The first century is tied to the twentieth, the intervening years no longer being a void.

Not to be overlooked is the first major historical work by a Christian, the fourth-century Ecclesiastical History20 of Eusebius. Available with Greek and English on facing pages, it will impress on the reader better than any other ancient writing that the Catholic Church and its distinguishing elements existed from the first.

A history book deals mainly with people and actions and not so much with ideas and their development, although that necessarily plays a substantial part in any history of Catholicism. It is hard to trace doctrinal developments, no matter how many straight history texts one has access to. What is needed is an account of the history of beliefs themselves. The premier work of that kind is Joseph Tixeront's History of Dogmas,21 a three-volume set that is prime reading for the apologist. As John A. Hardon explains on the cover, Tixeront takes the basic truths of the Faith and “analyzes these truths in their historical context from the New Testament through the last of the Fathers in the eighth century. Three crucial concepts are especially demonstrated: (1) that the Catholic faith has remained essentially unchanged since the time of Christ to the present day, (2) that there nevertheless has been a marvelous development of doctrine fulfilling Christ's prophecy, `when the spirit of truth comes He will lead you to the complete truth' (John 16:13), and (3) that this continuity and development of Christian doctrine has been possible only because of the Roman Catholic Church, of which the Bishop of Rome is the visible head.”


An invaluable companion series is Johannes Quastern's Patrology.22 This standard reference work, in four volumes, is an introduction to the Christian authors of the early centuries. (Patrology, the study of the Fathers of the Church, of their contemporaries — both orthodox and heterodox — and of the authenticity of the works attributed to them, should be distinguished from patristics, the study of their thought, which is more the kind of thing found in Tixeront's books.) Patrology will give the reader a good grasp of how Christian literature developed in the early centuries, and that in turn shows the continuity of the Church and its doctrines.

William A. Jurgens' The Faith of the Early Fathers23 is another three-volume set that covers the same years as Tixeront's and somewhat more than does Quastern's — that is, from the first century through the eighth. It is a work of remarkable compression and utility and cannot be recommended highly enough.

There are available, for hundreds of dollars, English translations of early Christian literature, not just the writings of the Fathers, but also of other orthodox commentators and of heretics. These shelf-long sets are for libraries and for bookish apologists with fat wallets. Until Jurgens' anthology appeared, there was nothing convenient in size that could be had at a convenient price. The value of The Faith of the Early Fathers is not to be found, though, in how much shelf space or how many dollars it saves, but in its doctrinal index, which lets the reader locate at once references to the sorts of issues fundamentalists bring up. There are 2,390 quotations in the three volumes, some a few lines long, some several paragraphs, and they are cross-referenced under 1,046 doctrinal headings, which are organized much like a catechism.

For example, headings 849 through 899 deal with the Eucharist. Headings 849 through 867, which include 88 citations (some of the headings having more than a dozen), are restricted to the topic of the Real Presence, and numbers 868 through 899 cover Communion, the Mass, and liturgy and law. Heading 851, for instance, is the proposition that “Christ is really present in the Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine”. Twenty citations are given. Number 852 is that “the truth of the Real Presence is evident from the words of institution”, and for that there are seven citations.

In addition to the doctrinal index there are an index of scriptural references and a detailed alphabetical index. What is more, each writer and his works are introduced in a few well-turned paragraphs. Jurgens includes helpful footnotes, covering all the hard or controverted points, and gives suggestions for further reading.


As a final handbook on doctrines, consider Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.24 This is a true tome, but one worth obtaining. It is invaluable for the research an apologist promises to do on short notice, and ex-Catholics who are returning to the Faith through a program of good reading have said Ott's work, though intimidating at first sight, is helpful because it presents so much between two covers. Ott discusses the whole of Catholic dogma, and the value of his work lies not just in his precision and compact explanations, but in his references. How can Catholics claim the Church was established as a visible institution? What is the basis for that? Ott covers the issue, giving references to and quotations from papal encyclicals (somewhat useful, but of course not authoritative in fundamentalists' eyes), the Bible (here is what they want), the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and Church councils. He also gives heretical views, referring to the theories of the Spiritualist sects of the Middle Ages, to Hus, Calvin, and Luther. So it goes, with every topic.

Ott does not present a complete answer in the form fundamentalists will understand or find convincing, at least not usually, and his is certainly not the first book one would recommend to a fundamentalist beginning to learn about the Faith or to an uninstructed Catholic. But it can put the Catholic apologist on the right track, ensuring he will find all the right biblical references and enough other leads so he can build firm arguments.

Not exactly a handbook on doctrines, but an extended commentary on their growth, is the premier theological work in English, John Henry Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.25 While not the first book the apologist will want for his library, it is one he should read early on so he can understand how an examination of the history of doctrines can lead one to the Church. Newman was an Anglican with strong Catholic sympathies when he began writing this book, and as he finished it he converted. One might say he wrote himself into the Church. What his research demonstrated to him was that the Catholic Church, contrary to what he had been brought up to believe, had not added dogmas at random; there were no Catholic “inventions”, but maturations of the original deposit of faith.

If one were to select a single book as a guide to the art of apologetics, it would be Frank Sheed's Catholic Evidence Training Outlines.26 This marvelous work was used to train members of the Catholic Evidence Guild, which Sheed and his wife, Maisie Ward, guided more than half a century ago. At one time the Guild had six hundred street-corner preachers in England alone. Street-corner preaching, of course, is now passé; anyone talking religion from a soapbox in the park is presumed to be a bit off — and usually is. Besides, the audiences have changed.

In the twenties, thirties, and forties, one could stand up in Hyde Park, announce that papal infallibility was the topic, and be sure of gathering a crowd that included, along with the usual assortment of cranks and habitual hecklers, a large number of intelligent listeners. However popular street-corner preaching once was in England, its popularity there was never great, and in both places, it has nearly disappeared. But no matter. The lessons that Sheed taught his Guild members two generations ago are just the lessons serious Catholic apologists need to learn today, and they can be used effectively in one-on-one talks or in group discussions.


Catholic Evidence Training Outlines went through several editions, rapidly improving with age and experience. The book began as a collection of short lesson plans used in the weekly courses Guild members had to take (and pass, after rigorous tests) before being allowed to speak publicly. Opposite the title page is a boxed warning that “the speakers are again reminded that these are not street-corner outlines but class outlines to prepare them for the street corner”, and that is just what the bulk of the book is.

The first forty pages are devoted to the theory of street-corner apologetics (perfectly applicable still, even if the discussion takes place in the home, on the steps outside of church, or in print rather than on a lecture platform) and to how Guild training should be organized. Sheed had it down to a science, and it shows in his writing.

Then come two dozen short chapters — if they can be called chapters — the course for junior speakers, people who were allowed to speak on only the basics. Twice as many chapters cover topics for senior speakers. Each chapter consists of a narrowly drawn topic, the key points schematically described; recommended readings; and true-to-life sample questions. The student who could not answer each question with aplomb (and they are tough) could not graduate from one subject to the next. It was common to find hundreds of Guild members who were allowed to talk on only a handful of topics. It took years of regular training to become a senior speaker or, higher still, a chairman, the person who acted as moderator on the platform and who was considered competent to handle any question the audience might post.

As a rule, several people would speak, taking turns. A senior speaker might start off, to get the crowd warmed up. Then a junior speaker or two would give ten-minute talks on some of the basics of the Faith. Then, perhaps, another senior speaker would have as his topic a particularly sticky or confusing issue, such as the Inquisition or the Mystical Body of Christ. Questions could come from the crowd at any time, and heckling was common. It was the chairman's job to get the speakers up and (just as important) down in a timely manner, and he would take over if a speaker was getting in over his head or was losing control of the crowd.

All in all, it was a thorough, militarylike system, one that worked remarkably well in bringing converts to the Church and in developing the faith of the Catholics who participated. The scheme of operation can be appreciated by reading the nine “technical lectures” that are sandwiched between the junior and senior courses. They are on such things as “Relating to the Mind of the Listeners”, “How to Handle a Crowd”, and dealing with “Questions and Interjections”. At the end of the book, in addition to an appendix comprised of six specialized lectures, is a general survey of key points.27


If Catholic Evidence Training Outlines is the best source book to have, a good runner-up, and one that is easily obtained, is Radio Replies,28 Leslie Rumble and Charles M. Carty's three-volume set. The book contain 4,374 questions posed to the “Radio Priests” during their many years on the air in the United States and Australia. The questions are tough because they are authentic. Rumble and Carty took the questions as they were sent in and prepared complete, readable, and pointed responses. Virtually every question a fundamentalist could ask will be found in Radio Replies. What is more, virtually every question a nonreligious skeptic or a confused Catholic could ask will be found there.


Fulton Sheen began his preface to Radio Replies by noting that “there are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is quite a different thing... If, then, the hatred of the Church is founded on erroneous beliefs, it follows that [the] basic need of the day is instruction.”


True, these books are old, the last appearing in 1942, but it is uncanny how useful they are now. Only a handful of the hundreds of topics considered are truly dated, and of course some of the terminology has changed. Those are minor points. Anyone not prejudiced against what was written the day before yesterday will profit immensely from Radio Replies. These might well be the most-thumbed books on an apologist's shelf, the ones he turns to first when he promises to find an answer to a question that is puzzling a prospective convert to (or from) Catholicism.

Fulton Sheen began his preface to Radio Replies by noting that “there are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is quite a different thing... If, then, the hatred of the Church is founded on erroneous beliefs, it follows that [the] basic need of the day is instruction.”29 And Radio Replies is certainly a gem of an instructional aid. Sometimes Rumble and Carty cover a topic completely, giving the reader far more than he needs to satisfy his curiosity. At other times they give, if not a full treatment, at least enough that the reader knows where to look for detailed information.

There are other works by Frank Sheed that deserve mention, because he probably had a firmer grasp of practical apologetics than any other Catholic writer. His Theology and Sanity30 was originally published in 1946; the revised paperback edition features a fascinating preface in which Sheed gives some history of his street-corner apostolate and pokes fun at people who siphon the reality out of the Resurrection and Ascension, “leaving for our nourishment only the spiritual meaning of incidents all the truer for never having happened!” He explains:

When I wrote Theology and Sanity, I had been teaching the Faith under the open sky for a quarter of a century... Every paragraph had been tried out on forty or fifty outdoor audiences before I got it down on paper. Listeners were free to walk away the moment they were bored — I tried to learn from their boredom. If they stayed, they could utter their reactions — anything from agreement to intelligent criticism to mockery to blasphemy — with a freedom which speakers who knew only the ivory tower of pulpit or lecture hall found unnerving. It was unbelievably educative. I doubt if there was any objection against the Faith in all the centuries that was not hurled at us. And, unlike the great theologians whose writings had helped to form our minds, we could not go off and think bout the objection for a year or two, then write an article. We had to cope — somehow — there and then. The crowd was truly co-author of the book; not a sentence that has not been reshaped by them. This really is aggiornamento — doctrines restated, not to be made more acceptable but more comprehensible, related to the questions people were actually asking, to the needs they were actually feeling, in the language they actually spoke.31

This book presents to the reader a fully rounded and accurate representation of the Catholic view of reality, a view remarkably unlike that held by fundamentalists. Even most Catholics have a weak appreciation of it, and it is something that needs to be well comprehended by anyone wanting to pass along the Faith. The title Theology and Sanity comes from Sheed's notion that to be truly sane is to take into account the whole of reality as it really is. To disbelieve in the supernatural as even many Catholics, in practice, seem to do, is to live other than sanely, much as a physician who disbelieves in bacteria lives other than sanely.

Sheed begins with a fine explanation of the Trinity, which is usually thought of as a dry topic but which his outdoor crowds found the most captivating. The next section looks at angels and men, the Fall, the Redemption, and the Mystical Body of Christ, and it gives perhaps the best popular account of life after death to be found anywhere. The last section explains why we need to be habituated to reality, how our insufficiencies are made up for by the sufficiencies of the Church, and how “sanity points toward sanctity”.32


It is not enough to have the Faith firmly on hand and to be able to answer questions with a glib tongue. There is a tendency for religion to seem dry. Scholastic in the bad sense. This is easily overcome if one has a deep appreciation of the life of Christ. The New Testament, of course, is the place to turn, but reading it alone is insufficient unless one is graced with considerable powers of synthesis. Help is needed to see the larger picture, and there are several books that do a fine job in that.


It is not enough to have the Faith firmly on hand and to be able to answer questions with a glib tongue. There is a tendency for religion to seem dry. Scholastic in the bad sense. This is easily overcome if one has a deep appreciation of the life of Christ.


Again, one is by Sheed. It is To Know Christ Jesus.33 The opening line of the foreword says, “This book is not a Life of Christ.” Sheed means there is too much we do not know about Jesus, at least regarding His everyday activities, we know, for instance, only one event between His infancy and the start of His ministry, for this to be a regular biography. What Sheed proposes to do, and what he does admirably, is introduce us to Someone through the Gospels. Things are put in the right sequence, in the right perspective, and then, when one turns back to the sacred writings, there is a new and deeper understanding. The Gospels are in many ways so haphazard in organization, so confusing in terminology, that we need a road map to get around them and to know what we have seen. It is a bit like visiting a large city. You can drive around all day and still have no feel for it; but study a map, see where the main buildings are and how the highways intersect, and you can get back in the car and, for the first time, really appreciate what is there.

Similar to Sheed's book is Fulton Sheen's Life of Christ,34 his most famous work. Written in response to an unnamed trial that afflicted him for years, it centers on what struck him as the main point of Christ's life, that Christ did not come into the world to live but to die. “Unless there is a Good Friday in our lives there will never be an Easter Sunday. The Cross is the condition of the empty tomb, and the crown of thorns is the preface to the halo of light.”35 Sheen takes the reader through our Lord's life chronologically, as might be expected, and he punctuates his recounting of what we think should be a familiar tale with astonishing insights. This book is every bit as good as Sheed's in giving the prospective apologist the indispensable overview.

Not to be overlooked is Romano Guardini's The Lord,36 which may be the epitome of the genre. Guardini begins by noting that neither a psychology nor a biography of Jesus is possible — the divine is not to be comprehended by finite minds.

All we can do is ponder such words as: “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and men” (Luke 2:52), or the passage in the Epistle to the Galatians which describes Him as one “in the fullness of time,” ripening to maturity deeply conscious of the history about Him... We can only reverently pause before this or that word or act, ready to learn, adore, obey.

Guardini offers “the spiritual commentaries of some four years of Sunday services undertaken with the sole purpose of obeying as well as possible the Lord's command to proclaim Him, His message, and His works”.37 It is generally agreed that Guardini fulfilled his task well.

Gathering the books mentioned in this chapter will be neither convenient nor inexpensive. While only someone wanting to go into apologetics on a more or less formal basis (or a bookworm) will acquire all the books, any Catholic who wants to develop his own faith so he can speak effectively with fundamentalists will get most of them. The fundamentalist problem is not a small one, and the problems fundamentalists have with Catholicism are not few. There is no one book that will arm Catholics adequately for the task, and it will take months to read what must be read. But the homework needs to be done — for oneself, for one's family and friends who might be tempted toward fundamentalism, and for fundamentalists, both ex-Catholic and never-Catholic, who are thinking of coming home to Rome or who, if they find their questions answered, might start thinking that way.


Endnotes:

  1. Not every apologetics book is useful in dealing with fundamentalists. Some are written more for the inquiring agnostic than for the believing Protestant, and even those that are not usually neglect fundamentalism's specific charges. Since these charges are often identical to ones leveled against the Church two generations ago, many of the most useful apologetics works are old. Distressingly few recent works about the Faith discuss problems in Church history or argue the foundation of doctrines — apparently because the authors think history is unimportant and doctrines are mutable.
  2. Editors of encyclopedias excepted, of course.
  3. Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962).
  4. An example is The Floating Admiral (New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1931), contributors including Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, and Ronald Knox.
  5. Bernard Orchard et al., eds. A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1953).
  6. Author of The Layman's New Testament (London: Sheed and Ward, 1934), which is particularly helpful in replying to verse-slinging.
  7. Reginald C. Fuller et al., eds., A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: Nelson, 1969).
  8. Raymond E. Brown et al., eds., The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968).
  9. William G. Most, Free from All Error (Libertyville, Ill.: Franciscan Marytown Press, 1985).
  10. John Steinmueller, A Companion to Scripture Studies (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1969).
  11. John Steinmueller, The Sword of the Spirit (Waco, Tex.: Stella Maris, 1978).
  12. Hugh Pope, English Versions.
  13. Henri Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Books, 1980).
  14. Eberhardt, Summary.
  15. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church (St. Louis: Herder, 1946).
  16. Henri Daniel Rops, A History of the Church of Christ (New York: Dutton, 1960).
  17. Warren Carroll, A History of Christendom (Front Royal, Va.: Christendom College Press, 1985).
  18. Philip Hughes, A History of the Church (London: Sheed and Ward, 1914-1948).
  19. Hughes, A Popular History of the Catholic Church (New York: Macmillan, 1947).
  20. Eusebius Pamphilius, The Ecclesiastical History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1975), cited in this book as Historia ecclesiastica.
  21. Joseph Tixeront, History of Dogmas (Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1984).
  22. Johannes Quasten, Patrology (Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1983, 1986).
  23. William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1970, 1979).
  24. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books, 1974).
  25. Newman, Essay.
  26. Sheed and Ward, Evidence.
  27. In writing Catholic Evidence Training Outlines, Frank Sheed was assisted by his wife, Maisie Ward. The portions cited in this book seem to have been written by Sheed.
  28. Rumble and Carty, Replies.
  29. Rumble and Carty, Replies I:IIX.
  30. Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (Huntington, Ind. Our Sunday Visitor, 1978).
  31. Sheed, Sanity IX.
  32. Sheed, Sanity, 324-26. Also to be recommended is Sheed's Theology for Beginners (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1957), which covers much of the same ground from a differnt perspective.
  33. Frank Sheed, To Know Christ Jesus (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Books, 1980).
  34. Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977).
  35. Sheen, Life, 9.
  36. Romano Guardini, The Lord (Chicago: Regnery, 1954).
  37. Guardini, Lord, vi.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Keating, Karl. “Food for the Mind.” Chapter 25 in Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on Romanism by Bible Christians (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).

Reprinted with permission of Ignatius Press. To order Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on Romanism by Bible Christians ISBN 0-89870-177-5 (SB) call 800-651-1531.

THE AUTHOR

Karl Keating is the founder of Catholic Answers and edits its magazine, This Rock. Keating is the author of Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on "Romanism" by "Bible Christians", What Catholics Really Believe-Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith, Controversies: High-Level Catholic Apologetics, and The Usual Suspects: Answering Anti-Catholic Fundamentalists. He also engages in public debates with leading anti-Catholics, and publishes This Rock magazine. Karl Keating is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 1988 Ignatius Press




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