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Preview: Defensor Fidei: James Akin's Apologetics Blog

Defensor Fidei: James Akin's Apologetics Blog

A blog on how to do (and, more importantly, how not to do) Catholic Apologetics.

Updated: 2012-04-15T20:27:00.175-07:00




One of the most common faults of beginning writers is the overuse of modifiers (adjectives, adverbs). You must resist this tendency. Overmodification of your nouns and verbs weakens the force of your writing. Beginning writers frequently add modifiers thinking that these will make their text more vivid and powerful, but they don’t. Consider these two sentences:

(1) The beautiful Francesca lovingly spread a treasured quilt on the green grass beneath the stately oak.

(2) Francesca spread a quilt on the grass beneath the oak.

The second is better writing. In the first, each noun and verb has been modified in a vain attempt to make the text more vivid. The result is that the reader is asked to process too much; the modifiers get in the way. While each modifier may seem like a lovingly crafted detail to the author, they get annoying to the reader. If sentence after sentence is overmodified, he will stop reading.

Your writing will be much stronger if you avoid unnecessary modifiers. Remember: When it comes to modifiers, less is more. After you have written your rough draft, go through it and strike out every modifier that you possibly can. Only keep a modifier if, without it, the text will become unintelligible to the reader or the claim you are making will be false. Only modifiers needed to make something true or intelligible should be included by a beginning writer.

In particular, don’t put “good” and “loving” in front of words like “Father,” “mother,” or “teacher” unless you have to in order to be understood (which is almost never). These are among the most chronically over-used modifiers in contemporary apologetics texts. Other commonly overused words are “gracious” and “saving.”

For example, you don’t need to say “God is a good Father and so he lovingly provides for his children.” It is stronger to say “God is a Father and provides for his children” (note that we also got rid of “so he” in addition to “good”; this also makes it stronger writing). You don’t need to allude to the fact that bad fathers may not lovingly provide for their children. You don’t need to point out that God is good. Your reader can be expected to know that God is good at whatever he does, so if he is a Father, he will be a good one. The modifier “good” is unnecessary and weakens the writing.


Do not replace the literal sense of the text with the spiritual. The literal sense of the text is that Jesus was entrusting his mother to John’s care so that she could be taken care of in his absence. Literally, the text is not about Mary’s spiritual motherhood; it is about her domestic situation. The use of this passage to show a figure of Mary’s spiritual motherhood of the Church and the individual believer is spiritual application, not the literal sense of the text.

In describing apostolic succession, do not imply that bishops are simply modern apostles. They aren’t. The bishops are the successors of the apostles as the supreme leaders of the Church, but they are not the successors of the apostles in the office of apostle. A modern bishop is not simply an apostle by another name. All of the apostles had universal jurisdiction, could make infallible definitions, and work miracles. Modern bishops don’t fit that profile.

It is very difficult to use the text of Matthias’ election as Judas’ replacement to prove apostolic succession. What we are dealing with here is a very specialized succession that cannot easily be generalized. First, this is not a bishop succeeding an apostle. As we note elsewhere, bishop and apostle were different offices, despite the King James Version’s use of the term “bishoprick” (which makes the passage tempting for a Catholic apologist). Matthias was an apostle, not simply a bishop.

Further, this isn’t even a prooftext for apostles needing to succeed apostles, for it was not Jesus’ will that the office of the apostle continue beyond the first century. Instead, what we have happening here is a replacement of one of the Twelve, the group of Twelve that followed Jesus during his earthly ministry. This group, by nature, could not continue beyond the first century. A few years later when James was killed, he wasn’t replaced, though there were certainly candidates around (probably Justus was still alive).

It seems that the best interpretation of this passage is that, after the death of Judas, it was fitting that the Church age be started with twelve apostles at the helm, corresponding to Jesus’ original wish and to the twelve patriarchs of Israel at the founding of the nation. Once the Church age had been launched in this way, there was no need to maintain the twelve beyond that, so when James was martyred by Herod Agrippa, he was not replaced. Neither were the other apostles as they died. Furthermore, those apostles who were not part of the twelve—such as Paul, Barnabas, and James the Just—were never added to that number to make up the difference, so far as we can tell.


PROBLEMATIC TERMS *APOSTATE Why Problematic: The term "apostate" has a very precise meaning (see CIC 751): It means a person who has renounced the Christian faith entirely, not just a part of it. Consequently, it does not apply to heretics. Neither does it apply to schismatics, who have broken communion with the Church without denying a part of the faith. Only someone who says "I no longer believe in Jesus Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity" is an apostate. Unfortunately, the term "apostate" is inaccurately applied to many people who are only heretics or schismatics. The cognate noun *APOSTASY is also inaccurately applied to movements involving a less than total falling away from the faith (e.g., to widespread lukewarmness or non-practicing of the faith). When Okay: When you are referring to an individual who has completely renounced faith in Jesus Christ, "apostate" is okay. When you are referring to a movement of such individuals, "apostasy" is okay. Alternatives: If someone is not an apostate, use the correct term for them: HERETIC, SCHISMATIC, DISSIDENT, LAPSED CATHOLIC, LUKEWARM CATHOLIC, FALLEN-AWAY CATHOLIC. *CULT (worship or devotion) Why Problematic: Although the term "cult" with is original meaning--worship, devotion, or a system of worship or devotion--is fine in and of itself, it has become problematic due to the growth of the other use of the term, discussed below. The employment of the word as a term of abuse is now the dominate English usage, and as a result it "sounds bad" even when it is being used in an appropriate way. It also is potentially misleading, as many readers may think you are employing it abusively when you are not. Even when this does not happen, its use will generally cause problems for the reader and will harm the persuasive value of your writing or speaking. When Okay: There are some situations in which the term can be used, particularly: (1) When writing for academics or (2) when referring to ancient cults (e.g., the cult of Yahweh, the Temple cult in Jerusalem, the cult of Isis, the Mystery Cults). Alternatives: Use *WORSHIP or DEVOTION if referring to the act; use SYSTEM OF WORSHIP, SYSTEM OF DEVOTION, RELIGION, MOVEMENT, SECT, or GROUP when referring to a body of people. *CULT (Bad Group) Why Problematic: In colloquial English, the term cult has become a term of abuse that has no objective content. It is a silly-putty word that is applied to any religious group that one does not like. Many, especially in Protestant "counter-cult apologetics" try to dignify the term by coming up with definitions for it that sound objective, but none of these are viable. They all either suffer from arbitrariness, subjectivity, hypocrisy, or some combination of these. In general, the definitions fall into two classes: theological and sociological definitions. Theological definitions attempt to say what a cult is based on the doctrines it holds. All of these definitions suffer from arbitrariness. They focus on the denials of particular doctrines that the user holds dear (e.g., "Any group is a cult if it doesn't preach salvation by grace alone through faith alone through Christ alone"). Such idiosyncratic definitions do not correspond to the way the term is popularly understood and are therefore arbitrary and misleading to members of the general public who hear the word being used in such senses. Such definitions also frequently are hypocritical (e.g., "These people are a cult because they believe that you will not be saved unless you join their group"--as if that wasn't with nuances a basic teaching of the Christian faith!). Sociological definitions attempt to say what a cult is based on organizational characteristics, such as having a central, charismatic leader, a secretive, hierarchical structure with authority at the top, or being overly intrusive or manipulative with regard to the lives of its members. These definitions come closer to the way in which the term is actually used in popular speech (especially when the themes[...]


Why This Page

For some time I have needed to put together a set of notes on how to do and how not to do Catholic apologetics. I plan eventually to use these notes as the basis of a book. In the interim, I also have a need to make these notes accessible to certain folks who wish to use them. After puzzling over how best to do this, I started to design a web-based system that I realized was essentially a blog. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I decided to do the notes in blog format until I'm geared up to do the book (at which point I will strike the tent on the blog). If you've come across this page and find it useful to you, great.

One note: Some individuals may wonder who I'm thinking about when I give particular "don't do this" notes on the page. The answer is: Probably nobody in particular. Most of the errors I plan on cataloguing here are not unique to any one individual. They tend to be things that I run across a lot (because I read a lot of apologetic manuscripts), and so I have no particular person in mind when recording them in this blog. I see these problems too many times to associate them with any particular person. So, if you're an apologist, archair or otherwise, don't worry. I'm almost certainly not thinking of you in pointing out a particular mistake. If anything, I may be thinking of myself, because I plan on cataloguing mistakes I've made in past writings, talks, and discussions.

So enjoy!

--James Akin