Catholic Teaching

Apologetics; Not Apology

Apologetics is a science used to defend, explain, and justify religious doctrine. The word ‘apologetics’ comes from the Greek apologetikos; a defense. Do not confuse the word with apology. When we engage in apologetics, we are defending our Catholic Faith, not apologizing for it!

As Catholics, we are members of the only Church founded by Jesus Christ, true God and true man, second person of the Blessed Trinity. He gave His Church to His Apostles and their successors, to govern and rule without error, until the end of time.

Many members of other churches, founded by humans, will often attempt to discredit our beliefs with the claim that “they are not found in the Bible”. These people are known as sola scriptura Christians, and are those whom you will frequently encounter in apologetic endeavors. This series of articles will attempt to provide you with the information needed to properly defend your faith. It is important to remember to be Christian and charitable in your responses and explanations. Even more important, and this should not be forgotten or ignored, is to never water down our faith, so as to make it more acceptable to those in other denominations. Martin Luther, Swingli, and John Calvin refused to accept 1st and 2nd Macabees as “Divinely inspired books” and therefor not considered canonical in nature. A reading indicates why. The books of Macabees warned about watering down the faith in order to be “not offensive to others” in the world community.

A frequently heard comment is that: “The Bible says: ‘Call no man your father on earth...’ (Matt, 23:9), and yet you Catholics call your priest or pastor by the title ‘Father’. Why do you do this?” Let me list some of the more than 120 times that the word ‘father’ is used in the New Testament of the Bible in reference to human beings.

St. Paul, who was celibate, with no natural born children, said: “.... For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” (1 Cor, 4:15)

“Follow the path of faith that our father Abraham walked...” (Rom 4:12)

A father provides food for his family. When we call a priest ‘father’ we are recognizing that he is feeding us with the finest of wheat; the Holy Word (Acts, 6:4), and in Communion, he feeds us with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Matt, 26:26-28).

A father causes new life to come into the world. At the Baptismal Font the priest brings new life into the universal Church; is he not a father?

Traditionally a father councils, teaches, governs and guides his children in proper living. The priest is engaged in the same way in our lives. Is he not also our father?

Sola scriptura Christians will present you with this seemingly innocuous statement, “call no man your father”, causing you to seek answers in the Bible, and by the time you have found the information to refute them, they just “hit you” with another so called violation of Biblical teaching. We, as Catholics are called to evangelize, so we must be prepared not only to advance our faith, but also to defend it from attack, from the outside, but more importantly, from inside the Church.

Another question you will face in apologetic activity is: “Why are you Catholics required to obey the Pope, when the Bible supplies all that we need to know concerning our salvation?” The answer to this is really quite simple if we just consider what happens when individual theologians differ in their interpretations about what the Bible actually teaches; there are over thirty thousand Protestant sects in the world today! It started with what we call the “Reformation”, and as each theologian disagreed with a certain interpretation in his sect, he would form a new church. It is very obvious how easily one can be led astray by those who do not admit that Jesus formed His Church around Peter, and that the Holy Spirit would not let her err in matters of faith or morals.

In Matt 10:2-4 we read a listing of the Apostles. Peter is named first [Greek: protos]. The Greek word protos means foremost, best, or chief. Since the other Apostles are not given a numerical listing in this reading, it is obvious that the term protos is actually a designation of preeminence. Peter served as spokesman for the Apostles. [See Mark 8:29; John 6:68-69: Acts 2:14-41]

Some Christian denominations are quick to claim that when Jesus changed Peter’s name to Petros, and said: “Upon this petra I will build my Church,” that he referred to Peter as a small rock, and the foundation of His Church as a large rock. In the Greek language, this would be correct, but Jesus did not speak Greek, He spoke the Aramaic language. Petros is a masculine name, but petra is a feminine noun. There was a serious grammatical problem here for a correct translation, resulting in the misconception that Jesus was not actually building His Church on Peter. In Matt 16:18 Jesus said: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”. This statement to Peter clearly states that Jesus was establishing Peter [His Rock] as the keeper of the keys to heaven, and as such we are required to believe in him and obey him and his successors.

We will, in apologetic endeavors, be faced with the question: “How can a Pope be infallible? Isn’t he human, prone to make mistakes like all human beings”?

Our answer should be to agree with the questioner, and admit that a Pope can very easily make mistakes, and the Catholic Church will be the first to say so, but that is not what infallibility means. Infallibility means that a Pope cannot teach error, when addressing the whole Church, in a definitive manner, on a question of faith or morals. The First Vatican Council described very clearly the requirements for infallibility., but this was only a re-affirmation of what our Church has believed since its inception. No Pope has ever made an error in dogmatic teaching. Some prelates will tell you that there has been only one infallible statement made in the history of the Catholic Church. Their misconception arises from the mistaken idea that a Pope must declare a statement to be infallible in order for it to be so; this line of thought only reveals their lack of true Church teaching. There are three requirements for a statement by the Pope to be infallible; it must concern faith and morals; it must be definitive; it must be directed to the whole Church. The recent encyclical by Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, dated May 22, 1994 is a prime example of an infallible document, despite the fact that the word infallible is never used in it. Our Holy Father ended the paper by saying that it pertained to the Church’s divine constitution [faith and morals]; it was to be definitively held [definitive]; it was to be held by all of the Church’s faithful [the whole Church]. He very clearly articulated the meaning of the word infallible, but never once used the term in the paper. Yet, even within the walls of our Holy Mother Church, we find some so-called theologians who will claim that the document addressing the question of female priestesses can be overturned by a future Pope, which denies the guarantee of Jesus; “I will be with you for all time.” (John, 14:16-17)

The authority of the Church is defined many times in scripture. Jesus delegated all power to Apostles in Mt 28:18-20: “... and Jesus came and said to them (the Apostles) All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the earth.”

The power to forgive sin is found in John 20:23: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The power to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice is found in 1 Cor 11:23-24: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said: “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it , in remembrance of me.”

The power to legislate is given to the Apostles in Mt 18:18: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The power to speak in Christ’s name is granted in Luke 10:16: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me.”

There is no logical defense by a sola scripture fundamentalist of their claim that Jesus did not establish a Church built on Peter to be passed down by his successors to our present Pope and the cardinals and bishops who are in unity with him. There is also no defense against the claim of the Catholic Church that it has the authority it claims regarding faith, moral, and disciplinary jurisdiction, for this has been guaranteed by the Bible!

Let us go out and engage in apologetics, both outside and inside our Church. But it is important to keep in mind that we are to defend our Church’s teaching, not apologize for it, nor permit it to be ‘watered down’, so as to ‘not offend’ those who do not agree with the Biblical teachings we have quoted.


Fred Pascall



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