Sunday, 17 February 2013

Learning from the past

As a traditionally-minded sort of chap, I am interested in learning from the past; indeed it strikes me as the height of folly not do so. A mind that declares 'History is bunk' is only revealing its own paucity of understanding.

With regard to my recurring theme of the need for Apologetics, (and here) that means, as Ttony has pointed out, considering the example of the Catholic Evidence Guild.  I have been doing this mainly in the introduction to the CEG Training Outlines, but also reports such as this.

I am not quite clear if the CEG is still active anywhere: recent links seem harder to find.  Further, I am not sure that their particular approach to the apostolate is now the best one: outdoor talks seem to me less and less likely to attract listeners.

However, I do think that their approach to training apologists is something from which we can learn a great deal.

To give some idea of that, here is a quick sketch of how volunteers were expected to prepare to talk about just one aspect of the Faith: The Visible Church.

First, they were given a reading list:

Tixeront: Apologetical studies (most important)
Sheehan: Apologetics (Ch ix)
Knox: Essentials of Spiritual Unity
Sertillanges: The Church (Chapters l, ll and V)
Adam: Spirit of Catholicism
Hughes: History of the Church (Vol l, Ch ii)
Rousselot: Life of the Church
(For the Mystical Body)
Sheed: Map of Life (Ch vi)
Benson: Christ in the Church.

They were also expected to be thoroughly familiar with relevant passages of Scripture, such as:
Matthew: xvi, xxviii; Mark iv 11; John, xvii 11, 20 -23; xxi; Acts: viii 17-19; xiii; xv etc  1 Timothy, iii 5 and 15, iv 14; Titus i 5, iii 10 etc; Ephesians iv 11-3; 1 Corinthians xi 34; and Galatians i 9.

They would then attend a talk by an experienced speaker and trainer on the topic, and ask questions.  They would also present on the topic themselves and be asked questions.  Sample questions that might be thrown at them included:

1) If visibility is an outstanding feature of the Church, why is the Church so difficult to find among all the conflicting sects? and how is it that so few find the Church?

2) The Kingdom of God is within you.

3) Why do we need an organisation to teach us Christ's Gospel?

4) Where two or three are gathered in My Name - nothing about a Church there.

5) The visibility of the Church is a mere political development

6) Visibility is but an ideal to be worked and prayed for

7) The Salvation Army is as much a visible body as your Church

8) I have the voice of God within telling me that I am right. What more do I need?

9) St John says: 'You need not that any man should teach you.'

10) Churches are only a means to an end: why do you worry so much about the means, when it is the end that matters?

11) Christ said: 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Why the Church?

(and so on - another six are listed, and speakers in training were encouraged to think up the hardest, most realistic questions they could think of - so in our times that would doubtless include issues of abuse, cover-up, corruption, dissent and so on).

Only when they were able to answer all questions quickly, succinctly and accurately were they put forward to be tested by a priest, and only then allowed to speak for the CEG.

Moreover, they were also offered spiritual formation, and instructed that for every hour they intended to practice their apostolate, they should spend an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

They were expected to attend two training sessions every week, as well as the actual commitment to speak...

As I said above, I am not seeking to recreate this, but to learn from it.

I suspect that I am not alone in recognising that faced with the questions listed above in the pub or the workplace, I might not have good answers to offer on the tip of my tongue (backed up by appropriate quotations from Scripture, and examples from the lives of the saints of the lived reality...).  And I feel that I should.  The CEG were clear that their task was not to convert people: that is God's responsibility; but rather to be able and willing to give a clear, comprehensive, accurate, positive and compelling account of the Faith.  To plough the soil, as it were, and scatter the seed: the miracle of germination is God's to work...

So the question I keep returning to, is how do we accomplish that, given (on the one hand) the difficulties of modern life (eg as highlighted by Joseph Shaw here) and (on the other) the opportunity presented by the social media?

Keep praying about this throughout Lent, please, and contribute any ideas.


Idle Rambler (Cindy) said...

Gosh! The 'workload' you mention here is enough to put even the most ardent saint off the idea of apologetics! :-)

Joking apart, I do agree that a programme such as that suggested by the CEG is just not really achievable for most people, leading the busy lives we all do.

I do also agree that surely something could be achieved via social media.

From personal experience, I know that after discovering the existence of blogs and orthodox Catholic bloggers, who often also use Twitter, I have learned so much more about my faith and the Church than I would ever have done left to do something about it myself.

As an adult convert to Catholicism, my knowledge was somewhat superficial when I was received into the Church and I'm afraid probably didn't improve much for years.

Now, however that everything is readily accessible, I find I'm spending a lot of time reading online desperately trying to make up for lost time.

Sorry for the long, rambling comment.

Ben Trovato said...

Yes, it is a huge workload: I am struck by the commitment implied, which I would struggle to match...

However, I think you are right that the internet has changed things, making access to information easier in many ways.

How do we exploit that? And how much do we still need to rely on face-to-face support and apologetics? Those are some of the questions I am still pondering....

Joseph Shaw said...

I don't think the internet is really a substitute for the training in apologetics which the CEG used to do. It provides us with boiled-down answers to a lot of things, like CTS pamphlets always have, but you need more than that in an extended discussion.

Two interesting things about the CEG. It began to go wrong in the 1960s when Frank Sheed and others began to introduce 'nouvelle theologie' writers into the mix. In style and content they would be very difficult to fit into traditional apologetics. This process led to the collapse of a consensus about what Catholic teaching really is, without which the whole training programme is impossible.

Secondly, I recall Daphne McLeod (who was active in the CEG) saying that you couldn't do street preaching today because a Catholic in the crowd would contradict you, and that would cause scandal. The problem arises also on a TV chat show or on the internet. Again, this makes the old model very difficult to use.

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks: good points.

On the first, I think there is scope for more in-depth work via social media. The Catholic Reading Group was an interesting toe in the water in that regard: coming together to read and discuss serious Church documents, which are available to read online.

With regard to Catholic, teaching, I hope with the Catechism, read in continuity with preceding teaching, we should be able to be pretty clear about that.

On the last point, I agree with Daphne McLeod, and with the points you have made recently, and have no intention of replicating the CEG. It was the rigour of their training in apologetics that I would like to consider emulating, not their street corner witness.

Joseph Shaw said...

On the one hand, it would be difficult to do what the CEG used to do, for the reasons Daphne McLeod gave. But we still need educated apologists - we need them more than ever. The thorough education the CEG gave lay apologists was wonderful. Catholic Voices doesn't even come near to the depth of understanding they would have had.

We mustn't be beguiled into the idea that a CTS pamphlet/ Wikipedia article / Catechism of the Catholic Church level of understanding is adequate for an active apologist (as opposed to a child seeking the sacrament of confirmation). It has got to go a lot deeper than that. And that's where the lack of consensus becomes problematic.

Ben Trovato said...

JS I know what you mean, but I wouldn't compare the CCC to CTS Pamphlets. One of the strengths of the CCC is that it is well-referenced to Scripture and documents of the Magisterium: if those references are pursued, there is a lot of depth.

But I agree, more depth is necessary, particularly with regard to philosophy; and of course it has nothing to say about the art of apologetics itself, which also needs studying - and practice.