BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (2) – What is Apologetics?

– Rev José Mario O Mandía

Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15).  “Defense” is a translation of the Greek term “apologia.” That’s where the word “apologetics” comes from. Thus, apologetics is about defending one’s belief.

Note, moreover, that Saint Peter says that people will ask us to “account for the hope that is in you.” The Greek term for “account for” is “logoswhich can be translated as “word” (see, for instance, John 1:1) or “reason” (or explanation). Our defense, therefore, is not through violent means, but through reasoning. Saint Peter adds “with gentleness and reverence,” so therefore our defense should be a rational, gentle and reverent explanation. We could say that apologetics is an exercise in Christian wisdom (the first among the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – see Isaiah 11:2-3) and charity (the most important among the theological virtues – see I Corinthians 13:13). Quite challenging, isn’t it?


Cardinal Avery Dulles, in his History of Apologetics, explains that in the first decades of the Church until 125 AD, the Apostolic Fathers (these were people who personally knew the Apostles,: Pope Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna and others) occupied themselves “with establishing the faith and discipline of the Christian community rather than with attempting to demonstrate the credibility of the Christian faith.” Cardinal Dulles says that after 125 AD, however, writings defending the faith began to emerge, prompted by four different kinds of people: educated converts who were seeking an intellectual explanation of the faith; philosophers attacking the faith; emperors who were persecuting Christians; Jews outside the Church who were slandering Christians or renouncing them to authorities. Christians saw the need to show that their religious belief was reasonable and credible.

From then on, Christian thinkers and theologians had to offer a defense in the face of different challenges through the centuries, especially Islam in the 7th century, Protestantism in the 16th, Rationalism in the 17th and Enlightenment in the 18th and their consequences to the present time.

Apologetics is now studied as a part of what is called “Fundamental Theology” which also includes a study of revelation and faith.


Apologetics tries to “make a defense” and strives to answer three main questions:

(1) Why should I profess any religion at all?

(2) Why should I be a Christian?

(3) Why should I be Catholic?

Thus, these three questions require three groups of demonstrations:

(1) Religious demonstration (demonstratio religiosa): studies religion in general and the reasons why believing in God’s existence is reasonable and rational.

(2) Christian demonstration (demonstratio christiana): studies the claim that God has revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ, has spoken to man, and has established a religion (a revealed religion).

(3) Catholic demonstration (demonstratio catholica): studies the claim that Christ founded the Catholic Church.