New apologetics for the new evangelisation

New apologetics for the new evangelisation

The following are extracts from Cardinal William Levada's talk given at an International Congress "A New Apologetics for a New Millennium" in Rome on 29 April 2010. Cardinal Levada, who is Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, remarked that the times were "ripe" for a new apologetics, "when we see the likes of Richard Dawkins and his fellow apostles of the so-called 'new' atheism addressing thousands on college campuses, with books caricaturing the doctrines and philosophy of the Christian tradition on the best seller lists." The full text of Cardinal Levada's talk is available on the internet.

The proposal for a new apologetics is tied intimately with the call to a new evangelisation which the Servant of God Pope John Paul II set before the Church as the principal task of her mission at the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity.

What would a new apologetics look like? I hope I can take for granted that it will have its scientific basis in a renewed fundamental theology, where faith and reason, credibility and truth, are explored as necessary foundations of the Catholic Christian faith. But the faith must always be newly thought through when it has to engage new situations, new generations, new cultures.

Art and the saints

Pope Benedict, in his 2008 meeting with the clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, said that for him "art and the saints are the greatest apologetic for our faith." He calls the saints a "great luminous trail on which God passed through history." About Christian art and music, he suggests that "in a certain way they are proof of the truth of Christianity: heart and reason encounter one another, beauty and truth converge ...".

Cardinal Francis George writes in The Difference God Makes, "During the Synod for America (1997), I suggested that an integral part of the new evangelisation must be a new apologetics — a loving and non-defensive but nonetheless clear response to the arguments against the Catholic faith. These include arguments raised on the one hand by those who misrepresent God's Word by reading the Bible as a code, and on the other hand claims by others that all religions, but especially Catholicism, are an illusion that destroys personal happiness and critical scientific intelligence" (p. 65).

He goes on to observe, "In the face of triumphant human reason at the end of the nineteenth century, the First Vatican Council taught that faith is not irrational. Ironically, at the end of the twentieth century, the Church is saying (e.g., Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio) that faith must rescue reason from its own self-inflicted wound of scepticism. ...

"A new apologetics must therefore be grounded in a philosophy that grants the sciences their rightful autonomy but not a hegemony. It must make use of a philosophy that is open to contemporary concepts, especially those that promote an appreciation or human subjectivity and for the centrality of human freedom in our experience. In an effective apologetics, reason finds itself strengthened in its dialogue with faith, and vice versa" (p. 71).

A new apologetics for the new millennium should focus on the beauty of God's creation. For this apologetic to be credible, we must pay greater attention to the mystery and the beauty of Catholic worship, of a sacramental vision of the world that lets us recognise and value the beauty of creation as a foreshadowing of the new heavens and the new earth envisioned in 2 Peter and the Book of Revelation.

The witness of our lives as believers who put our faith into practice by work for justice and charity as followers who imitate Jesus, our Master, is an important dimension of our credibility as dialogue partners in a time of a new apologetics.

Science and technology

We need to pursue the dialogue with science and technology. Many scientists speak of their personal faith yet the public face of science is resolutely agnostic. Here is a fertile and necessary field for dialogue. Surely the new millennium will offer new opportunities to expand this key dimension of the dialogue between faith and reason. And among the questions that most need attention today is that of evolution in relation to the doctrine of creation.

Cardinal Avery Dulles, in preparation for a new publication of his Testimony to Grace, the story of his conversion to Catholicism, drafted a new Afterword called "Reflections on a Theological Journey". One section of this reflection seems especially apropos here.

Cardinal Dulles wrote, "Many Catholic theologians, unclear about the importance of the faith that comes through hearing, have been reluctant to align themselves with the call to proclaim the Gospel. Conservative Protestant groups, although they have a conception of the Gospel that I would regard as very inadequate, are far more committed to the task of evangelisation. Having drifted away from the missionary commitments of their forebears, Catholics are only beginning to catch up with Pentecostal and Biblicist Protestants.

"Yet the Catholic Church, with its rich intellectual and cultural heritage, has resources for evangelisation that are available to no other group. We need a more outgoing, dynamic Church, less distracted by internal controversy, more focused on the Lordship of Jesus Christ, more responsive to the Spirit and more cap-able of united action" (p. 139).

The call for a new apologetics for the 21st century does not, in my view, amount to a "mission impossible". For this is the challenge given to apologists throughout the history of the Church: to let people know the reason for our Christian faith and hope with all courtesy and respect (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

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