APOLOGETICS AND CATHOLIC DOCTRINE
by Archbishop Michael Sheehan (newly revised by Fr Peter Joseph)
(The Saint Austin Press, 2001, 664pp, $39.50 plus $4.40 postage. Available from PO Box 180, Sumner Park, 4074, Queensland, tel (07) 3376-0105)
This present handsome edition of Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine is user-friendly with its clear type and smooth printing making it easy on the eye. In this respect it is a considerable improvement on its original of 70 or so years ago. That took the form of two small quarto paperbacks with compact print and was spartan with regard to such extras as illustrations or diagrams.
The present diagrams and illustrations are a welcome addition, such as that on the Apostles, a clever teaching aid which could be used at any level. Equally helpful is "Levels of the Magisterium", which should serve us all well. And very useful for ready reference is the table listing the Miracles of Christ.
There are still some of an older generation of products of Catholic secondary schools, who would remember with gratitude what they learnt from the original of this book, especially its first part, Apologetics. Although I did not myself at that stage directly benefit from its study, I have lived not only with those who learnt from it but even with some who taught it.
For the author/reviser, Fr Peter Joseph of the Wagga Wagga Diocese, this new book has been a labour of love; for several years he has lived with Archbishop Sheehan's originals and, chapter by chapter, tried where necessary, to present the same treasures of wisdom and grace in language and with illustrations more relevant and accessible to a new readership.
This book, it must be admitted, would tax most present-day senior students beyond capacity. (Why this should be so is another problem: in fact it is an amalgam of several problems.) It is possible that it would also in some cases tax prospective senior religion class teachers beyond their present expertise. But there are probably classes in some schools which would be both ready, willing and able to test the waters.
There is, however, a wider market and readership beyond schools; there are, for example, those study groups now springing up in many places, particularly in the State capitals. This book in itself, if used systematically, perhaps over a period of two years or more, would give a broad and reliable conspectus of contemporary philosophy and theology and how both of these affect and are the context in which the faith "once delivered to the saints" may need to be expressed today.
In the case of home-schooling parents, who are wondering how they can advance the religious knowledge of their teen-age children, again this book would be a goldmine. I am sure too that, if there were sufficient interest in such groups, the author himself or other clergy and teachers of like mind (as the author) would be ready and willing to organise classes.
In fact, this book, used in tandem with the Catechism of the Catholic Church would constitute all that the present-day Catholic needs who wants to be able to meet St Peter's challenge (1 Pt 3:15) that he/she be able to explain the hope that is in them.
In more detail: the section of Catholic Doctrine runs parallel to and in some instances is fuller than the CCC; that on Apologetics serves admirably to fill in what the CCC does not attempt to do in any detail. Taken together in close parallel attention, these two books would constitute a most enriching course for those interested, whether for the individual private student or for the study group.
In the view of the reviewer this book is all the more necessary or, at the very least, highly useful because of the current tendency to move away from the traditional Catholic concept of faith as an intellectual virtue, in the direction of conceiving faith as trust and emotional assurance: there is today much fideism, especially among earnest souls who may not know the word. The tendency over recent years to loosen the philosophical underpinnings of theology and dismiss the value of an intelligent grasp of the preambles of faith or arguments for its credibility accounts (in my view) in large part for the massive abandonment of religious practice among so many Catholic school graduates. In this connection read the very full section in Fr Joseph's book on Faith.
Br Christian Moe is a De La Salle brother with many years of teaching experience at secondary and tertiary levels. He presently works at the Corpus Christi Seminary in Melbourne.