The Calling of the Unapologetic Apologist
Written By: Aidan Wilson
Column: A Flashback in Orthodox History
Issue: Set to Appear in the December Issue of the Newsletter
The world is full of ever-increasing darkness, ever-increasing falsehood, ever increasing selfishness and immorality. This downward spiral into greater and greater evil is the natural side-effect of a world that neither follows, nor wishes to follow, Christ. Those of us who resist against that pervasive and perverse mindset cannot just ignore it, nor can we be content to appear, outwardly, to go along with it while pridefully considering ourselves above it. If such passivity were the calling of Christians, the Apostles would not have passed on the Faith to others, Christianity would not have spread across the globe, and the world we would then have would make the horror of the real world pale in comparison. We have to respond to the world and help show it the right way to live, and sometimes we have to defend that “right way” when the world tries to destroy it, ridicule it, or twist it.
So what is to be our response to the world’s darkness? The sixteenth verse of the fifteenth chapter of Saint Matthew’s gospel tells us: “…let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven,” and the opening chapter of the Gospel of John reminds us that when “light shines in the darkness”, then the darkness is unable even to “comprehend” it. Before we can move on into anything else, we must transform our own lives through good works, so that others can see, with their own eyes, the difference between Christians and those without Christ.
What is the proper answer to the world’s lies? As related to us by the Apostle John, Christ said of Himself, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” If our lives are devoted to God, who is the Life, and if we follow Him who is the Way, then we will be able to confront lies with His Truth. “Truth”, as we can see, is not a set of axioms to be studied with flashcards and recited to those in error; it is not a series of counterarguments; it is a Person, and that person is Jesus Christ, the Word and the Son of God. We have to be like Him and know Him in order to spread the truth.
The world “apologetics” comes from Greek, and its etymology is related to the word “λόγος”, (logos) meaning “word” or “reason”–the same word used by Saint John when he says “In the beginning was the Word.” The meaning of the word “apologetics” is sharing the word with others. For Christians, it more accurately means sharing the Word –Christ–with others. As detailed above, this approach allows us to dispel the darkness and the lies the world throws at us.
The world has been the home of many great people. Among them were great debtors, orators, rhetors, politicians, and public speakers, who used words to prove points to others. Also among them were great saints, theologians, and holy men and women, who allowed the Word to use them. From time-to-time one of the former and one of the latter have found themselves opposing one another. At one time, such a situation confronted the Church, when a man named Porphyry attempted to attack the Church’s teachings, writings, and founders, while numerous Christian flocked to defend them.
This face-off, to worldly eyes, appears evenly-matched at best, unbalanced–in the non-Christians’ favor–at worst. Sure, some might say, some of these Christian were learned men, and might be able to hold their own in intellectual discussion, but some of the first leaders of Christianity were fishermen–surely when great thinkers attack Christianity, the attackers’ points and logic will be overwhelming.
Ah, but that’s where worldly eyes would deceive someone observing such a circumstance. The reality is that a few men with limited, fallen minds have attempted to use their reasoning capacities to take on those who lovingly and zealously strive to serve Him who made them. The followers of human wisdom vs. the followers of God Himself. It really isn’t a contest.
And so we see these Christians–Jerome, Eusebius, and others–defend the Faith because they know the Faith, because the love the Faith, because they love God . And thus we see that the claims of Porphyry et al. don’t hold up to scrutiny.
There’s an obvious lesson to be learned here, and the lesson has a practical purpose and meaning for us. These clashes between the anti-Christians and the Christians are not just fragments of the past that we read about in books. Sooner or later, chances are, we each will run into such things, even if it’s not so obvious as someone writing treatises against Orthodox Christianity. We have to be prepared, and that preparation includes every action that draws us closer to God and increases our love for Him.
So whether confronted by a curious or skeptical friend or acquaintance, or surrounded by people participating in immoral behavior, we can spread the Truth, spread the Light, spread the Christian Life, and spread the Word–both by what we do and what we say. The darkness of the world can be pushed back little by little, slowly made brighter by the shining of the Grace of God. The world is going to doubt, the world is going to question, but the world is also going to long for answers, long for a support and a shelter and a stronghold. In turn, God longs to support and shelter and strengthen them, and when we follow Him and let His Light shine upon us, we can turn to the world, using apologetics to help in that illuminating work.
This is a critical calling, and through the example and the intercessions of every saint who ever wrote anything called “Against Heresies” or the like, we can in some small way emulate those great men and follow that calling in our own lives.